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#43 / Jonestown Theology: Lenten Explorations in the Valley of Death

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Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

God is never lost. In the midst of great evil, God is there. I have long wondered how Jonestown fits into such ideas. In the 1970s, Rev. Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple founded the settlement in the jungles of Guyana. After a few years of communal living, Jones led his followers to commit a mass suicide/murder that left over 900 people dead. The last words the community ever heard were recorded. Jones’ words are beyond disturbing. Evil resonates with every syllable. Even in the midst of such, I refuse to believe that God was absent during such terror. Lent is a time to look for God in death. To honor the victims of Jonestown, I’ve decided to seek God in the last words they heard in the order that they would have heard them.  In those evil words of death, may there also be something for us. These devotions should never be mistaken for an apologetic for Jim Jones or anything he stood for. This is a search for God.

 

“The person’s a fool who continues to say that you’re a winner when you’re a loser…” -Jim Jones

 

Do winners and losers exist? Jim Jones spent much of his time striving to be a winner. When he felt like he’d arrived, Jones solidified his thoughts by filling his life with people who constantly affirmed him. Ultimately, such affirmation became his undoing. Regardless, labeling people as winners and losers is incredibly problematic. The business of such rankings is always about power…who has it and who don’t. Jones made this statement to shame the people into committing suicide. They didn’t want to be losers did they? In the end, humans are complicated. Like us, Jones sometimes lived righteously and often he didn’t. I guess evil visits us all occasionally. In retrospect, it is clear that there were no winners and losers in Jonestown…there were only victims.

 

Amen.

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