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#7 / 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. 

“…as Jack Beam often said (and I don’t know where he’s at right this moment, poor Jack), he says if it’s only worked one day, it was worthwhile…”

 

In Jonestown, Jack Beam served the community as an engineer. By all accounts, Beam was a generous and loving person. In the hour of death, Jim Jones shared a quote from Beam to push the people toward suicide. Just because Jones used Beam’s quote for evil doesn’t make it evil. When he previously shared the quote, Beam was seeking to encourage people. What did he think when he heard the quote for the last time? For many that lived there, Jonestown was a success for at least a day. So was it worthwhile? For many, it was. The end doesn’t determine whether it was or not for the people. The days do. There were many residents who were boldly following God and seeking community. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do? While I’d encourage everyone to chase the days that work, be careful who you follow along the way.

 

Amen.

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