I had a strange dream last night.
At least I think it was a dream.
In the dream, an angel came down from heaven to my bedside, and said that I had been summoned up to Heaven to meet with God! This had never happened to me before, and I was a bit skeptical. But the angel looked serious, so I agreed and off we flew.
Angels are sure fast! We were up and away in an instant, and soon the pearly gates were in sight. And then….. there was God! He’s really awesome. He greeted me kindly and set me at ease right away. He said not to worry, it wasn’t something I said or did, and that I wasn’t in trouble. He just wanted to talk to me and show me around to see how I liked heaven.
This is a new program they have up there, he said. They want to be sure you are going to be happy in heaven, so they have arranged to give you a preview to see what you think. Some people don’t like it because all their old friends went to the other place, and they miss them. But most people like heaven, especially considering what the other place is.
The first thing I asked was to know if Patti Chastain, my wife which died of AIDS a number of years back, was there. “Of course Patti is here!” the angel exclaimed. “Patti is an angel herself now, and she is waiting to see you, after we show you around. But Patti asked us to introduce you to someone else up here first.” Who’s that? I wondered. “Why, Jim Jones, of course!” the angel replied.
I almost fainted. Jim Jones in heaven! I can’t believe it! After what he did to his followers in Peoples Temple? “Yes, Jim Jones is here in heaven,” the angel said. There must be some mistake, I said. And I certainly wasn’t sure I wanted to meet one of the most evil people the earth has ever seen.
It’s no mistake, I was told. “You see,” the angel said, “everyone down there on Earth makes mistakes. Some, like Jim, make really big mistakes. But we consider one’s entire life record, not just the bad things but the good things too. Jim did a terrible thing when he forced all of those people to drink the Flavor-Aid, but he did a lot of good things before that. We consider the entire life record in making our decisions. Jim saved many people, turned their lives around, made good people of them after a life of bad up until then. They are here now too, thanks to Jim Jones!”
I was amazed and speechless. I decided to talk to Patti before I made any further judgments. “Yes,” Patti agreed, “Jim did lots of bad things at the end of his life on Earth, but he did lots of good things before that. Many of those here now would have gone to the other place were it not for Jim Jones. We forgive him! Were it not for forgiveness, after all, none of us would be up here now. We’d all be in the other place, wouldn’t we?”
Patti’s right! No matter how hard it is to forgive, we must consider all that a person does in life, not just the bad of their life. Jim did so much that was good during his lifetime, and we must not forget that. And we must temper our condemnation of the man despite the magnitude of that last most regrettable act.
It’s the step we all need to take if we expect to get to heaven ourselves.
(Michael Haag is a social psychologist and long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. His connection with Peoples Temple came about in 1984 when he met and married Patti Chastain, a former member and survivor of Peoples Temple. His previous writings for this site may be found here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)