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.
“If we can’t live in peace then we must die in peace.” -Jim Jones
I’ve studied activistic suicides for a number of years. In every case, the idea that one can give their life to bring about justice draws the participant to the act. The concept is not without precedence. Since he had knowledge of what was coming, I would argue that Jesus committed an activistic suicide. Throughout time, people have given their lives seeking to bring about change. Most of the time, the intended result doesn’t match the actual outcome. Under increasing pressure, Jones thought that a mass activistic suicide would be an example of what it means to experience peace after dying for justice. The problem is that most people were horrified by the act and never considered that there could be anything just or peaceful about it. Though I doubt it, perhaps Jones’ intention was for the community to simply die in peace. If so, I hope they found it. Since God’s love knows no boundary, I bet they did.