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#51 / 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.

 

“She talks like she wants to leave us, well, she can go ahead…” -Unidentified Woman

 

If you can get someone to sincerely believe they’re damned if they leave, you can get them to stay. The Unidentified Woman’s response to Christine Miller exhibits this principle. The Woman believes that anyone who leaves is damned. When the Woman gives Miller the forceful option/directive to leave, her statement is tantamount to the phrase, “go to hell!” The possibility of damnation was enough to guarantee that Miller was counted amongst the dead. While there is much to learn from this interaction, one thing must remain perfectly clear…we don’t have to stay anywhere. God is never going to punish us for leaving. God is where we are. When someone encourages you to go to hell, walk away and say, “I just left.”

 

Amen.

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