#25 / Jonestown Theology: Lenten Explorations in the Valley of Death

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 think that there were too few who left for twelve hundred people to give…their lives.” -Christine Miller

Just a few hours after a small group defected from Jonestown, Christine Miller tried to convince Jim Jones that these defectors were no reason for everyone to die. Jones disagreed. In the midst of Jones’ supreme authority, Miller was desperate for a way out. There was no way out. Jones had armed guards encircled around the camp. Death was no longer a choice. Everyone was going to die. Sometimes, I think that our relationship with God is like this. God has encircled and there is no way out alive. Death is coming. Is our spirituality similar to those final moments in Jonestown? God, I hope not.

Amen.

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