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#45 / 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.

 

“When you, when you, when we destroy ourselves, we’re defeated… you are saying, ‘Let the enemy defeat us.'” -Christine Miller

 

Jim Jones claimed to be done with Jesus. So, why were there so many references to Jesus in those final moments? Jones is advocating for a position that followers of Jesus know well. You sacrifice yourself in order to defeat the enemy. Christine Miller understands Jones’ provocations and argues that you are defeated when you destroy yourself. Whether this is true or not is complicated, certainly there have been instances throughout history where people intentionally destroy themselves in order to save the lives of others. Regardless of one’s opinion on sacrificial suicides, it is important to point out that this was no suicide…most of the people of Jonestown were murdered. If not directly at the hands of another, the people were murdered by manipulation and coercion. Furthermore, Jonestown’s primary enemy came from within. The same man they revered as their God would become their killer in a matter of moments. The God that I know doesn’t work like this. While we should cautious of our enemies without, the most dangerous enemy is always the enemy within.

 

Amen.

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