Tuesday, 7 July 2020

In God’s foreknowledge, if he knew the majority of people would spend eternity in hell, why did he create human beings in the first place?


This is admittedly a hard question. As far as I’m aware, the Bible does not give an explicit, complete, or satisfying answer, so I have to wonder if it is something we must figure out before we can believe in and trust God? If he is omniscient and we are not, surely we would expect him to know many things about his own purpose and will that we do not, unless of course he has chosen to reveal it (Deut. 29:29). We know the God of the Bible is sovereign, the creation is for his glory, and he is therefore worthy of honor and praise.1 For believers this ought to be sufficient, but for skeptics not so much.

The Destiny of the Majority?

How does anyone know the majority of people will spend eternity in hell? If the opposite were true, if the majority would spend eternity in heaven, would that affect the impact of this question? The Bible does affirm that most accountable persons tend to choose the path leading to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14), but this does not constitute the majority of people who have ever lived or will live. If we concede the spiritual innocence of young children,2  what about the multiplied millions throughout history who have died by way of miscarriages and stillbirths, disease, war, famine, accidents, neglect, abuse, the death of pregnant mothers, infanticide, pagan sacrifice, exposure to the elements, and abortions? Add to this other innocent souls who have never reached the age of accountability, the mentally disabled, and all who have been justified in faithfulness to the Lord, it would seem that most human beings would in fact be in heaven.3

What About Relationship?

The fact that humans are relational beings seems to indicate that God, in whose image we are created, is relational (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16-18; 1 John 4:8). If he desires a relationship with his human creation that remotely compares to the depth of love and joy my wife and I share with our daughters, despite the inevitable disappointments and heartaches, I might have a slightly better understanding of the divine purpose. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).4

Love, Freedom, and Justice?

Freedom without choice is a logical impossibility. A loving God gives us free will and instructions for making the right decisions (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He desires all to be saved and none to perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but those who reject God’s way ultimately choose their own destiny in following the devil to his. 

The essential message of the Bible is that all accountable persons have sinned and are therefore separated from God’s holiness, but in his love and mercy and grace he provides a way through his Son to be reconciled to him and be saved from condemnation (Rom. 3:23; 8:1). I’m content to let God be the final judge and am confident he is righteous and fair, judging according to each person’s accountability, opportunities, and response (Luke 12:48; Rom. 14:12).

A Better Way?

To think any of us could have improved on the way God has chosen to do things is naively presumptuous. I might have chosen to destroy the devil (if a spirit being can be destroyed?), or not create any humans, or create only humans submissive to the divine will, or take away the opportunities to be tempted or to make bad choices, thus creating a world where I show favoritism, not allowing everyone a chance at life, and no freedom. But since I don’t know everything about God’s mind and purpose, how can I be sure that my “ideal” world would be better than the one he created? 

If I can appreciate my limitations and accept that God’s ways are far superior to mine (Isa. 55:8-9), I trust that he knows what he is doing, even if I struggle to fully comprehend or adequately explain it.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 See 1 Chron. 29:10-13; 2 Chron. 20:6; Isa. 43:7; 45:15; 46:9-10; Dan. 4:35, 37; Psa. 18:1-3; 96:7-9; 100:3; 115:3; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11; etc.
     2 See K. L. Moore, “One of the Worst Things About Hell,” Moore Perspective (9 Dec. 2012), <Link>.
     3 See Kyle Butt, “Did God Create People—Knowing That Many Would Go to Hell?” AP (2012), <Link>.
     4 Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.


Related articles: Wayne Jackson, Learning to Trust God 

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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

What About the Violent-Genocidal God of the Old Testament?

Anticonservative author Peter Enns wonders, “How can Christians condemn another religion as inherently violent when their own binding documents depict their God as extremely violent, one who commands genocide and for whom mass killing seems to be his preferred method of conflict resolution …. There’s no escaping the fact that Christians who take the Bible as a God-given dependable, trustworthy, and accurate source of information about God have some thinking to do.”1

Does Dr. Enns, and centuries of likeminded skeptics, have a point? Do questions like this pose a legitimate challenge to the believer’s faith? To be swayed by such argumentation one must first have a predisposition against the Bible and/or know very little about it. In fact, familiarity with scripture exposes the above accusation as a major overstatement that has targeted and distorted a tiny, cherry-picked fragment of the overall biblical story. Detractors are either unaware of key qualifying information, or they willfully ignore, deceptively omit, or stubbornly dismiss the rest of what the Bible teaches.

Say what you will, but the biblical record is honest and real. It has obviously not attempted to hide material that critics could use against it. The Bible does not present an idealized, glamorized, or romanticized version of history or its most notable characters. Supernaturalism aside, biblical narratives correspond to reality and cannot be properly understood apart from their own literary, historical, cultural, and religious environment. Before attacking the Christian faith and Almighty God himself, surely all pertinent information should be collected and scrutinized. Otherwise, the message of scripture is mischaracterized and misjudged.

The Sovereignty of God

How much arrogant superiority must one have to accuse the God of the Bible of arrogant superiority? Who among mere mortals is in the lofty position to challenge the actions of the omnipotent creator of the universe? If there is no God, upon whose moral standard does one judge a God who does not exist? “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other’” (Isa. 45:18).2

One could argue that if God gives life, he can take life (Job 1:21; Heb. 12:9). But what does this actually mean? From a biblical perspective, life does not really end but transitions from the temporary physical realm to the eternal spiritual realm (Eccl. 12:5-7). God cannot be charged with “murder” if he simply ushers people into the next life. Moreover, how can antitheists or antibiblicists be consistent if they reject the God of the Bible because he allows evil to exist, yet criticize him whenever he puts an end to it? And is a pro-abortionist justified in choosing to terminate physical life but God is not?

The People of Canaan

One gets the impression from the selective and embellished observations of critics that the Canaanites were innocent victims and the God-driven Israelites were malevolent and barbaric. But is there more to the story the uninformed are not being told? Would these same critics denounce the involvement of the Allied Forces in World Wars I and II? If not, apparently they have not gathered all the facts about Israel’s ancient foes.

What about the Canaanites who had violently stolen the land from previous settlers? (Num. 21:26-30). Characterized as fierce and menacing, these people were known for their aggression and warmongering (Gen. 14:1-12; Num. 13:31-33; 21:21-25, 33; Deut. 1:28, 44; Josh. 10:3-5; 11:1-5; 24:8-11; Judg. 1:7, 34; 5:19, 30; 6:1-6; 2 Kings 3:21-23). Adversarial interlopers are hardly innocent victims.3

What about the destructive influence of communities rife with wickedness? (Ex. 34:11-16; Num. 25:18; 31:16; Deut. 7:1-6; 9:5; 12:29-32; 18:9-14; 20:16-18). These people had drifted so far away from the divine standard of morality as to be guilty of all sorts of perverse evils—depravity, cruelty, brutality, even human sacrifice, including the torture and murder of children (Deut. 12:31; 18:9-10; 2 Kings 3:27; Jer. 19:5).4 “[F]or whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deut. 18:12). Is the preservation of righteousness an ignoble quest? 

What about the Lord’s incredible longsuffering with the iniquity of these people? (Gen. 15:16; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9, 15). While the God of the Bible is merciful, he is also a God of justice (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Isa. 30:18). As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live …” (Ezek. 33:11). The inevitable consequence of rejecting God’s goodness and forbearance is his righteous judgment (Rom. 2:4-9). 

But what about the innocent children who died in these conquests? None of us possesses divine foreknowledge, and from a very limited human perspective we may be missing the bigger picture. Alternatives would include the prospect of tortured and sacrificed children (burned alive) in their own depraved cultures, and the likelihood of survivors growing up to be just as evil. 

The providential victories of the Israelites were not because of their own virtue or superiority. Beyond the extreme wickedness of these Canaanite societies, there was a greater purpose to fulfill through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deut. 7:7-10; 9:4-6; cf. Gen. 26:3-4).

Israelite Ethics of War

The conquest narratives in the books of Joshua and Judges ought to be read through the moderating lens of Deuteronomy’s war ethics. Ancient near-eastern literature portrays military violence as morally acceptable and necessary to impose dominance and social order. Yet warfare regulations in the Hebrew scriptures are unparalleled in war texts of other nations.5

To fight against the people of God was to face annihilation. Nevertheless, enemies not yet meriting total destruction were to be given the opportunity to make peace (Deut. 20:10). Otherwise, combatants would be put to death while women and children spared (vv. 12-15). Compared to typical ravages of war, and in contrast to the ruthless societies surrounding them, the Israelites had strict laws for how captives were to be treated (Deut. 21:10-14; cf. 2 Kings 6:18-23).6 Unfortunately, “There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle” (Josh. 11:19).7

Lest the Lord be accused of categorical favoritism, the same punishments were executed against Israelites who resisted the way of righteousness and chose the way of evil (Deut. 13:11-18; Judg. 2:11-23). Remember the atrocities inflicted by the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Seleucids, et al.

Divinely sanctioned war occurs primarily during the conquest period but significantly declines through the historical narratives, defensive survival notwithstanding. By the time Jewish refugees return from Babylonian exile, there were no military strategies or campaigns. 

A Higher Purpose

We need to take a step back and see how each account fits into the overall biblical narrative. Taken as a whole, the Bible’s story is of a loving and compassionate God seeking to redeem a lost and broken world, while maintaining his justice and holiness. The intention all along has been to bless all people of all nations of all time.8 But free moral agency rejecting the righteous ways of God, resulting in sin, corruption, and evil, persistently gets in the way. 

If the Supreme Deity, as sovereign creator and sustainer of all, reserved a geographical territory as a national setting to bring forth the world’s redeemer,9 what fallible human being is justified in saying he had no right to do so? Through the centuries the Lord has patiently endured, made the tough calls, has been rejected and ridiculed, but his mercy endures forever.10

Undergirding the Old Testament’s turbulent history, God ultimately seeks the salvation of mankind through the preservation of the messianic seed-line.11 Israel’s chosen status and protection was the means through which the Savior was ushered into the arena of fallen humanity.12 When the Israelites sinned like other nations, they were punished. If God had ignored their sins or had completely annihilated them, all accountable persons of every generation would be lost without hope of redemption. 

Conclusion

Many are quick to say, “If I were God, here’s how I would do it …” A better approach would be to appreciate our minuscule place in the universe and the creator’s infinitely broader perspective and insight (Isa. 55:8-9). When God is judged as a petty human being, the biblical message is twisted and misunderstood (cf. Hos. 11:9). To portray him as a cruel, vindictive, malicious tyrant, most of the biblical record has to be ignored, his justice and holiness misconstrued, and divine attributes like love, grace, and mercy overlooked.13

Here is a suggestion for those who are troubled by a select handful of Old Testament texts: read the New Testament, where God’s purpose is more fully revealed and understood in Christ Jesus.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Pete Enns, “The Bible’s Violent God Isn’t,” HuffPost (16 Nov. 2014), <Link>.
     2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2016).
     3 See Jonathan M. Golden, Ancient Canaan and Israel: An Introduction (Oxford: University Press, 2009): 6-7.
     4 See Keith Paterson, “Did The Canaanites Really Sacrifice Their Children?” Bible Reading Archaeology (13 May 2016), <Link>; also Joshua J. Mark, “Canaan,” Ancient History Encyclopedia (23 Oct. 2018), <Link>.
     5 See Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (NY: Oxford University, 1993).
     6 See K. L. Moore, “Does the Bible Condone Sexual Assault?” Moore Perspective (7 May 2019), <Link>.
     7 On the matter of the LORD hardening their hearts (Josh. 11:20; cf. Rom. 2:4-5), see K. L. Moore, “Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart” (6 Feb. 2015), <Link>.
     8 Gen. 12:3; 18:17-19; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 1 Kings 8:38-43; 1 Chron. 16:7-36; Isa. 9:2; 42:1-6; 49:6; Jer. 16:19-21; Jonah 1:1-2; Hab. 2:14; Zech. 8:20-23; Acts 3:25; et al. The canonical Psalms contain around 175 references to the universality of God’s reign; cf., e.g., 22:27-28; 33:5-12; 57:9; 66:7; 67:1-7; 72:11, 17; 82:8; 86:9; 96.1-13; 108:3; 117:1-2. “In the Psalms there are seventy-six references to the ‘nations’, even though the Psalms are part of the worship of Israel. And if you add references to ‘all the earth’ and ‘the peoples’ it is quite startling to see how much the Psalms teach us of God’s concern for all mankind” (Michael Griffiths, What on Earth Are You Doing? [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1983]: 12).
     9 Gen. 12:1-7; 13:14-17; 15:5-7; 22:17-18; 26:3-4; Ex. 3:7-8; 32:13; Deut. 1:8; 4:1; 16:20; Psa. 37:3-34; 46:7-11105:42-45; Isa. 2:1-4; 9:6; Mic. 4:1-5; Acts 3:24-26; 7:2-5, 17, 45; Gal. 4:4-7. Note, however, the land inheritance was conditional (Lev. 20:22, 24; Deut. 28:1-2, 15; Josh. 23:13-16; 1 Kings 9:6-7; 2 Chron. 20:7), and Abraham’s descendants did not remain faithful to the covenant with God (1 Kings 19:10; Jer. 31:32) and eventually lost the land (Josh. 23:13-16). See K. L. Moore, “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth (Part 1),” Moore Perspective (22 April 2020), <Link>.
     10 1 Chron. 16:34, 41; 2 Chron. 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psa. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1-4, 29: 136:1-26; 138:8; Jer. 33:11.
     11 Gen. 3:1-13 records the entrance into the world of Satan’s power of sin and death, and v. 15 is the earliest reference to God’s plan to destroy Satan’s power. The “seed” promise began in Gen. 3:15, was carried through the OT (e.g. Gen. 22:18; 28:14) and fulfilled in Christ (Gal. 3:16). The serpent’s “seed” would be all who reject God’s will and become the devil’s progeny (John 8:44; Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 3:10; cf. Matt. 12:30). The woman’s seed (Christ) became the offering for sin (Isa. 53:5, 10), whose suffering was the means through which the serpent’s head was struck, destroying the power of sin and death (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). See also Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:1-17; 20:2, 10; cf. Psa. 68:21; 91:13.
     12 Gen. 22:18; 26:4; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Matt. 1:1-23; Luke 24:27, 44-45; Acts 13:23; Gal. 3:16; 4:4-5; Heb. 2:9-18.
     13 Ex. 15:13; 20:6; 33:19; 34:6-7; Num. 14:18-19; Deut. 5:10; 7:7-9; 13:17; 30:3; 2 Sam. 24:14; 1 Chron. 16:34, 41; 21:13; 2 Chron. 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Neh. 1:5; 9:17; Psa. 13:5; 17:7; 23:6; 25:6; 36:7; 40:10-11; 51:1; 63:3; 69:16; 103:4; 119:77, 156; 145:9; Isa. 30:18; 54:8, 10; 63:7, 9; Jer. 9:24; 16:5; 33:11; Lam. 3:22, 32; Dan. 9:4, 9, 18; Hos. 2:19-23; 6:6; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2; Mic. 7:18-20; Nah. 1:3; et al.


Image credit: adapted from Michelangelo’s fresco (1511), https://exequy.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/yahweh/

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Preterism: What’s the Big Deal? (Part 4 of 4) Concluding Observations

Overly-Simplified, Overly-Complex

The fundamental weakness of hyper-preterism is its overly-simplistic method of interpretation, which creates an overly-complex belief system. When a biblical text does not seem to fit the preterist model, it has to be reinterpreted or spiritualized.1 When a biblical text does seem to fit, context is sometimes ignored or explained away.2 If one has not fully embraced the preterist system, it is extremely difficult to see in the Bible what preterism claims is there. In fact, it has been less than 150 years since this novel eschatological perspective was first introduced.3

Preterists insist theirs is the only “consistent” interpretive model, so much so that consistency of meaning is demanded even when appropriated scriptures are scattered across a variety of literary and historical-cultural settings. Strict preterism fails to appreciate that biblical terminology can be used in a variety of ways with different contextual connotations.4 The result of preterist methodology is an overly-simplified, overly-complex, acute imbalance.

A More Balanced Approach

Does the Bible speak of the Lord’s representative “coming”? Yes, but not always. Yahweh came representatively against Babylon via the Medo-Persians (Isa. 13:1-22; 26:21; 27:1). The Father’s presence was represented in his Son (John 14:7-11). Jesus sent the Spirit as a divine representative (John 14:16-18, 23-26; 15:26; 16:7-15). The Lord came in judgment against Jerusalem representatively by the Romans (Joel 1:9-16; Matt. 24:1-34). This does not mean, however, there can be no personal appearance of the Lord in the future, which a number of NT passages seem to affirm (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2-3; etc.). Why feel the need to force symbolization onto these verses unless there is an underlying agenda one is trying to defend? 

Now and Not Yet

Throughout the NT there is an obvious tension between “now” and “not yet.” Salvation is viewed not only as a past occurrence (Rom. 8:24; Eph. 2:5, 8), but also a present reality (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15) and a future hope (Rom. 5:9-10; 9:27; 10:9; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5). Spiritual life is available right now (John 11:26; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 4:16–5:17), while those experiencing this newness of life still anticipate what is to come (Matt. 5:12; Rom. 8:24-25; Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 1:3-7). 

Does the Bible teach initiated eschatology (past), realized eschatology (present), or future eschatology (yet to come)? Yes it does! The long-anticipated arrival of the Messiah to usher in God’s final dispensation was in fact realized with Jesus’ physical presence on earth (Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:20-21) and the formation of his church (Matt. 16:18-19, 28). But it is also “unrealized eschatology” because there is more to come. The messianic kingdom has been inaugurated and is moving toward heavenly consummation (1 Cor. 15:23-26). Biblical eschatology is realized but not fully realized.

Other Timeframe Issues

Based on passages like 1 Cor. 7:29-31; 15:51; and 1 Thess. 4:15, liberal critics have long argued that certain NT writers and early disciples were anticipating in their lifetime the second advent of Christ at the end of the age, but they were wrong. Preterists agree that some biblical texts allude to the imminence of eschatological events, but rather than mistaken the prophecies were fulfilled in a non-literal sense in the summer of AD 70. 

Both of these conclusions, however, do not reflect the broader scope of what the scriptures teach. Even Jesus did not know whether or not his return would be imminent (Mark 13:32). Paul understood that he and his contemporaries may or may not still be living at the Lord’s parousía (cf. 1 Thess. 5:2-3, 10; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 3:11). Although nearness in time was surely possible, it was never definitively affirmed as the only possibility.5

Another timeframe issue, upon which preterism stands or falls, is the dating of the book of Revelation. For futurists, it doesn’t matter. But for preterists, the close of the NT canon must have been prior to mid-AD 70 in order for their theory to seem plausible. Internal evidence places the most probable context of Revelation toward the end of the reign of Domitian (AD 95-96), supported by the weight of early testimony.6

Does it Really Matter?

The biblical doctrine of the parousía is foundational to the Christian faith (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:14-18). To allege it has already occurred is deceptive (2 Thess. 2:1-3), as well as cancerous, a deviation from the truth, undermining the faith of some (2 Tim. 4:17-18). The future judgment has always been part of the gospel message that provides an incentive to obey (Acts 3:19-21; 10:42; 17:30-31; 24:25; Rom. 2:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; 2 Thess. 2:5; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Pet. 3:11, 14). 

The promise of the Lord’s parousía and accompanying experiences gives hope and reassurance to believers (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-8; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 3:10-11; 1 John 3:2-3), “awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).7 Teaching otherwise causes unnecessary apprehension and discord (2 Thess. 2:1-2) and counters the persistent admonition to be prepared, watchful, and alert (Matt. 24:36, 44; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:10-18). Yes, it matters.

-- Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 For example, Matt. 24:36–25:46; 28:18-20; Luke 20:33-36; John 5:25-29; 6:39-44; 12:48; 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 35, 42, 52; 2 Cor. 4:14; 5:10-11; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; 1 Thess. 2:19; 4:13–5:11; Tit. 2:11-13; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2-3; Rev. 20:11-15.
     2 For example, Matt. 10:23; Acts 17:30-31; 24:25; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 2 Thess. 1:6-12; 2:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:18.
     3 James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (London: Daldy, Isbister, & Co., 1878). Notwithstanding 1st-century heresies (1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).
    4 For example, while the return of Christ is sometimes referred to as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pet. 3:10), the same expression is used elsewhere in scripture with reference to six other days of the Lord’s judgment. It is a mistake to overlook the historical and literary contexts in which this phrase and comparable expressions are so often used. If the number seven is consistently employed throughout scripture to symbolize completeness, and the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem was the sixth so-called “day of the Lord,” should we not expect a seventh and final day of the Lord’s judgment? See K. L. Moore, “The Day of the Lord,” Moore Perspective (1 Feb. 2014), <Link>. No doubt adding to the confusion is the fact that the language used is clearly apocalyptic. “A real event is being described, but it is one which cannot be described literally since the direct activity of God cannot be fully comprehended in human language. The biblical writers have therefore to resort to analogy and metaphor, the language of symbol, in order to convey their message” (I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians [Vancouver: Regent College, 2002]: 128).
     5 See K. L. Moore, “Anticipating Christ’s Return (Part 1),” Moore Perspective (31 Jan. 2018), <Link>; and “Anticipating Christ’s Return (Part 2),” Moore Perspective (7 Feb. 2018), <Link>.
     6 See K. L. Moore, “Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 2),” Moore Perspective (14 Nov. 2018), <Link>.
     7 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.


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