Phenomenology / Healing & Rev. Jim Jones

by Jeff Hood

“…I reach out in the love that I am, that God is, that he always shall be, and I heal your body. I heal your body.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q920

Our youth group was a popular place of thick smoke and dense mirrors. In the construction of it all, sometimes God appeared faintly in the distance. Once a week, we had a blowout service. Everybody got hyped up. I mean everybody. Not a service went by that I didn’t find myself raising my hands and jumping up and down. I just wanted to feel something. The only thing I felt was the pain in my legs. Looking around, I kept up despite the struggle. The pain was a sacrifice. Based on the pain of Jesus – I guess – surely that was the least I could do. We just kept on jumping and shaking. It didn’t bother us when God didn’t show up. We just kept on manufacturing the presence. “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!” Faces kept contorting emotion, legs kept shaking in excitement, and hands kept on declaring presence. Looking back, it was weird as hell. Then again, it was God for us.

“Now wait a minute, wait a minute…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q919

That night started like all others. Everybody was mulling around outside in deep anticipation. We talked about God. We condemned sinners. We dreamed of the future. The door was always shut until the music cranked up. It was the beat that ultimately pulled us to our seat. Unholy reverence was the expectation. The cold metal chairs were unbelievably uncomfortable. I have no doubt that such discomfort was intended to encourage us to stand… and stand we did. Even if there was nothing spiritual going on, you couldn’t help but feel the thump. The speakers were so big. It hit you over and over. It rattled your insides. It made you weak in the knees. Everyone called it music, but it felt like lightning. Song after song fed us the theology. After you repeated the same words over and over again, every syllable became hypnotic. Euphoria set in, and we believed whatever we were told. Then, they would get us praying. These were never individual prayers. These were always prayers led by the leader. He knew that we would have done whatever he told us to do in that moment. The world was his.

“…if you got some readiness…”
– Rev. Jim Jones

The night got wilder. “Pray harder my friends! Pray harder! Somebody in here has a deep need. Close your eyes, friends! Pray that God will move amongst us tonight! Pray! Now… With every head lowered to the floor and every eye closed, I want you to consider your needs. Do you have a deep need? Are you the one that God is going to enter into this place through tonight? Search your hearts! It might be an emotional ailment. It might be a physical ailment. It could be any kind of ailment. Pray! We need an answer. Wait a second… Wait. I am hearing something from beyond. The Spirit is speaking to me. Stand up! There she is.” You could hear him jump off the stage.

“Ummm-mmmm-mmm. Spirit. Spirit of God.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

With great excitement, everyone opened their eyes and turned around. A young woman stood up. With tears in her eyes, the woman revealed a large cyst on her hand. As she huddled with the leader, you could hear her making noises of ecstasy. When he was done, they held up her hand and the cyst was gone. Everyone jumped up and down with delight. Our desire only deepened. “Stay where you are… We don’t want anyone else to miss their healing.” Nobody moved. We wanted more.

“Another one, gone.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q919

I examined her hand very closely. There was no cyst. There was no question that she believed. There was no doubt that everybody else did too. Did belief make it real? I don’t know. I do know it felt real to me.

“Don’t think that there’s nothing impossible with God, nothing impossible with God.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926 

Decades later, I encountered that same woman at a social event. I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity. I went up to her and reintroduced myself. She didn’t remember me. I had to spend a few seconds describing who I was. Then it clicked. After exchanging some pleasantries, I got to the point. “Did that cyst really disappear from your hand?” After a few seconds, she thoughtfully replied, “I’m not sure… But I know something happened.” After exchanging further pleasantries, I walked away. Though much time and distance has passed, these events stay with me. Healing is far more complicated than what meets the eye… or hand.

“Almighty God, Almighty God, Almighty God, Almighty God…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

We don’t have a television. We swore it off many years ago. I have a tendency to get sucked in. My eyes and brain fall out. However, occasionally I get a hold of one and just let myself go. I always drift over to the Christian television stations. The faith healers and tongue speakers just fascinate me. The movements and the moments draw me deeper and deeper into another world.

“Up out of the wheel chair. On up, sister.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926 

“Oh God! I need you right now! Take the pain away! Let me walk! Take the pain away! Oh God! Let me walk!” As the choir sang, the woman demanded a miracle. With every step, her old walker strained. Regardless of the pain, she never stopped crying out. When the attendants saw her coming down to the stage, they rushed over to help. Slowly, they got her down to the front. Thousands of people watched to see what would happen to her. She was so unsteady that the attendants ended up carrying her up the stairs. When she came face to face with the healer, she began to cry. “Please! Please! Please!” Without delay, the healer called on the power of God and placed his hands on her legs. Immediately, she threw her walker into the audience and started dancing around. “Glory! Glory! Glory!” The crowd went wild. Everyone joined in. Dancing exploded throughout the building. The healer just stood and smiled. Occasionally, he leaned into the microphone and said, “Isn’t God wonderful?” The pandemonium lasted for a considerable amount of time. The woman was walked backstage. The music never stopped. Leaning in, the healer made an appeal for money so that the healing could continue. Rapidly, every wallet and purse seemed to empty. After the offering was finished, the night started to wind down. In the midst of the last song, the healer raised his hands and proclaimed healing over everyone there. I have no doubt that people walked away healed that night. I could see it. That doesn’t mean it was real. The woman never came back out. Who was she? I still don’t know. I doubt most cared.

“All right. Take your hands, and clasp, and believe. Believe.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

Often, the healer is creepy. I’m often afraid that they are going to come right through the screen. The broadcast always builds to the climax. That magic moment when the healer make all things right. Often, the healer requests that people place certain afflicted body parts up against their television screen. I’ve always wondered how many people actually do it. Do people jam their breasts against the static? Do people hike their legs against the colors? Do people put their genitals in play? It is a strange phenomenon. Of course, right after the healing comes the call for money. Like a used car salesman, the healer loudly begs and pleads as a phone number blinks below their chest. Obviously, these folks make a tremendous amount of money… We know that, because there is always another broadcast. Are people healed? That I don’t know.

“God would discern…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q920

What is possible? We might never know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe healing is a much bigger idea than we’ve ever dreamed of. Maybe the physical outcome does not dictate the realness of the moment. Maybe belief actually creates reality. It certainly did for the followers of Jim Jones.

“Hands clasped.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q920

I think he truly wanted to see the movement of God in the land of the living. In fact, I think he was willing to do anything to see it. His desperation grew exponentially. Occasionally, he did something miraculous. It wasn’t enough. He wanted it all of the time. God became an obstacle. I met Jim Jones around that time.

“Now, man, I’ve said enough to know that only God can…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

People poured into the church. I’d never seen such a crowd. The nations were represented on every pew. Everyone was so excited. I could see it in their eyes. Quickly, people took their seats. The music came on like a flash. Then, came the man of the hour: Rev. Jim Jones.

“Come on, come on. Come on, come on.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

Pandemonium swept the sanctuary. Then, Jones gravitated toward a woman who had a large cyst on her hand. With a rub, Jones healed her. The entire sanctuary cheered. Jones’ words were concentrated on the power of God, but whatever words he said, it was clear that this was about Jones.

“Is there someone here?”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q919

The old woman in the wheelchair leaned forward with great expectancy. With smooth words, Jones declared her healed. She kicked her wheelchair out of the way and started running around the room. The music cranked up and pandemonium swept the room again. The woman just kept on dancing.

“I just healed her…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q926

Promising complete restoration, Jones wanted people to give him everything. Running around, he kept telling people what was wrong… and then proceeded to heal them. In the midst of such health protection, funding was no problem.

“I want to protect you…”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q919

Some is bullshit.

Some is not.

Did I witness healing? Did Jim Jones really heal people? The answer to these questions isn’t complicated. Verifiability is not what makes healing real or not. Reality is what makes healing real. Are people really healed in the process? Are these healings physical or spiritual? I don’t know. On some level, it doesn’t matter. People have consistently been healed in all types of ways from all types of ministries, even evil ones.

Was Jim Jones a healer? Though things spiraled horrifically out of control, I don’t think there is any question that people were healed in a variety of ways through Jones’ ministry. That’s why some people ultimately followed him until the end. Just because the purveyor of healing is evil, doesn’t mean that the healing is fake. Besides, healing will never be contained by the finitude of the mind.

“Many in the church age believe in the spiritualization of God, and as you believe in the spirit of God, in keeping with the spirit, you may be healed mentally and spiritually. When you see God in the material realm, then you get healed in your physical realm. Then the deliverance comes in the physical body, freedom comes in the natural. We get freedom from poverty, from want and disease. If you apply it to the spirit of God, your spirit will be healed. And if you apply it to the mind of God, your mind can be healed. But if you apply it to the body of God…then your body will be healed.

It’s wonderful. I don’t think I have to say more about that. Those that recognize the body of God shall reduplicate that process in them. If you see the temple of the Holy Ghost, then you’ll be able to reproduce God in you.”
– Rev. Jim Jones, Q919

(Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood is a Baptist pastor, theologian and activist living and working in North Carolina. Dr. Hood’s extensive work has appeared in numerous media outlets, including in the Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Los Angeles Times, WIRED magazine and on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR. He writes regularly at http://revjeffhood.com/. His previous article for the jonestown report is The Theology of Jonestown: Radical Explorations in Redemption. His other articles in this edition are God is not silentDreams and Nightmares: Prayers to the Father and Microphones Ain’t Antennas. He can be reached at jeffrey.k.hood@gmail.com.)

Originally posted on September 26th, 2018.

Last modified on October 7th, 2020.
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