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#8 / 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. 

“…I’ve never lied to you… I never have lied to you.” -Jim Jones

When someone tells you they’ve never lied to you, they’re usually lying. We now know that Jim Jones consistently lied to the people of Jonestown. Lies were utilized to maintain control. Those who built communities based on truth don’t have to lie. I’ve often wondered what the community would have been like if it wasn’t based on lies. Imagine a loving people working as one. Perhaps, on some days this is the way it was. According to those who survived, on most days it wasn’t. Regardless, truth must hold any community together. Lies destroy such things. God is truth. God is future. A departure from the truth is a departure from any future. The absence of truth caused the deaths at Jonestown. Despite the lies, God was there when the bodies started to collapse. The truth will never leave us. In the end, the lies will be destroyed and the truth will guide us home.

Amen.

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