Apologetics: War and Violence in Scripture

This is yet another post from my apologetics series. I lead a group at Mississippi State Wesley Foundation on apologetics and we have covered a wide array of topics this past semester. These are brief summaries of possible responses to common worries.


Moral Objections to God from Scripture: Violence and Warfare in the Bible

  1. If God is good, then why does he often encourage wars, and why is there so much violence in the Bible?

Possible Solutions:

1. The Sovereign God response (again). Similar to the response to the classical problem of evil, this response calls upon God’s divine omniscience and wisdom. God sees all possible outcomes, and chooses the best one. So if God ordains war, even if it seems horrible to us, He is only doing what is best. Furthermore, any people who God punishes with violence and war are sinners, and so deserve no better to begin with. God can do as He pleases. Much like the response to the classic problem of evil, this response can leave many feeling very unsatisfied, as it seems God is using an “ends justify the means” approach, treating many as merely pawns in his drawn out game.

2. Response from Middle-eastern literary studies. From dashing babies heads on rocks to devoting entire towns up for destruction, it is clear that the Bible contains violence. This can be explained by a look into literary traditions of early middle-eastern culture. It was quite common for authors to exaggerate greatly about the deeds of their armies, and perhaps the violence in the Bible is meant to relay a message different than what we in a western culture would expect. For more info on this, check out these two articles from seedbed, which do a much better job of explaining than I could.





Apologetics: Oppression of Women?

This is yet another post from my apologetics group at the Mississippi State Wesley Foundation.

Moral Objections to God from Scripture: Women’s Rights

  1. If God is good, why are women allowed to be subjugated and mistreated in scripture?

Possible Solutions:

1.) Seeking alternative definitions of equality. Our Western ideas about gender equality may not be perfect. Though women are given different roles than men, this does not mean they are any less holy or part of God’s family.  Being under a man is the natural order and part of God’s design, and is thus not a bad thing as our society claims.  An objector may point out that women are often just as capable, if not more capable, than men at performing many leadership tasks. It seems a cruel joke to make a creature specifically designed to be submissive. This really makes it seem as if God only tolerates women, but that men are his truly prized possession. A supporter of the alternative definitions approach may reply that this is merely a result of sin and our deteriorated Western culture. This response will still be unsatisfactory to many, however.

2.) Denial of the accusation approach. Another approach to this problem is to point towards a misunderstanding of the context of passages that seem oppressive. God created Adam and Eve both equally, and placed Eve as Adam’s helper (which could also be translated as “partner”) and the submissiveness described in Genesis 3 is a curse the result of sin, not a command by God.  Furthermore, women are often exalted in scripture. Miriam, Aaron’s sister, is a leader (a prophetess who leads worship), Debrah is given the title of Judge, Ruth is included within Jesus’s genealogy and has a whole book devoted to her story, Jesus permits Martha’s sister, Mary, to sit and learn, which was completely against cultural standards at the time. Many of the verses often quoted about women’s submission can be interpreted very differently with historical context taken into account (a good place to look for this is in N.T. Wright’s commentaries. I’m also writing a paper on this for a class, which you are welcome to read once finished).   Even so, it seems that women are often looked down upon or as lesser than men by many within the church due to differences in interpretation. This may seem troubling, despite taking this approach.



Apologetics: The Problem of Evil

This is my second post in a series on Apologetics. These answers are ones discussed in a group I’m leading at the Mississippi State University Wesley Foundation. Though I don’t hold to all of these views, I try to represent each one fairly.

***It should be noted that responses marked as “unsatisfactory” are not necessarily the wrong answer, nor are responses marked as “satisfactory” necessarily more correct than others. It simply means that these responses leave more to be desired. The answer may not be as conclusive as we would like, etc. Nevertheless, they may still end up being a sufficient  answer, and their satisfactory status says nothing about how right or wrong they actually are.***


The Classic Problem of Evil:

  1. If God is good, why then is there so much evil in the world?


Possible Solutions:

1.) The Sovereign God response. Supposing that God is sovereign over all, it seems that he would be able to stop the gross injustices and evil in the world. We can postulate, however, that God, in His infinite wisdom, has seen that allowing such evil will bring about a greater good. In other words, “God makes all things good.” This answer seems particularly troublesome, however, precisely because of God’s divine omniscience as presented within it. If God could see all things, then He also could have foreseen the devil tempting mankind and our inevitable fall (as any such omniscience implies determinism, so it seems that if God knows everything ahead of time, then everything is set in place and our “decisions” matter little or are entirely illusory), then God could have also prevented these events from transpiring (and it also seems to imply that God created evil, as He knew what would happen from the start). Even if this wasn’t possible, God surely sees every evil deed that has been, is being, or will be committed (the holocaust, genocides, the slaughter and rape of innocents, even children) and yet He merely sits and watches without intervening. It could also be argued that the idea that this is the best possible world is dissatisfying.  Are we really supposed to believe that, in all his wisdom, this is the best God could do?  A supporter of the Sovereign God response may reply to these objections that the human mind is inferior to that of God, and even though it may be difficult to comprehend, God knows what He’s doing. This response, however, will leave many very dissatisfied.

2.) The Free Will response.  Many will take the opposite path from the Sovereign God position and suggest that God has given man free will.  Since we do have free will, it is not God’s decisions but our own which have created such a distasteful world.  In fact, one could point out the numerous times throughout scripture where mankind messed everything up while God tried with everything He had to set things straight again, even unto death.  So it was Adam’s decision, not God’s, that ultimately lead to the fall. This kind of response will also require further thinking on God’s foreknowledge, as it seems that if we do have truly free will then God couldn’t know what our next move may be (so this would go against the classical view of God’s omniscience). Several views to look into include Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism.  One objection to the Free Will response asks whether or not free will is truly worth all of the pain and suffering in the world. Adam made his decision and it was a bad one, so why not step in and stop it? One could respond that if God were to decide to correct Adam’s decision without mankind freely choosing for Him to do so, then it would defeat the purpose of free will to begin with. Why offer someone a choice if you’ll only truly allow them to choose option A? Even with this in mind, one still may wonder if creating truly free creatures is worth so much evil. Ultimately, a Christian has to have faith in God (trust in God’s character) that He is in fact doing what’s best.

Apologetics: Creation or Evolution?

If you know me at all, you probably know that I’m pretty big into philosophy and theology, and you may know that I’m into Christian apologetics. You may also know that I lead an apologetics group at the Mississippi State University Wesley Foundation. I’ve been leading the group since last semester, and we’ve covered a broad array of topics. One of the guys that comes regularly asked me to make a list of the topics we’ve covered and the responses to them. I thought I might post those topics/responses here periodically! So here we go: the first topic was Creation.

***It should be noted that responses marked as “unsatisfactory” are not necessarily the wrong answer, nor are responses marked as “satisfactory” necessarily more correct than others. It simply means that these responses leave more to be desired. The answer may not be as conclusive as we would like, etc. Nevertheless, they may still end up being a sufficient  answer, and their satisfactory status says nothing about how right or wrong they actually are.***


Creation or Evolution?

Q. How are we to take the Genesis account? If it is literal, what are we to do with evolution and other scientific counter-proofs? If we do not read it literally, how can we justify that? It doesn’t seem to be enough to merely claim that parts of the Bible are metaphorical simply because they can’t mesh well with modern science.


Possible Responses

1.) Read Genesis literally. There is plenty of counter evidence against evolution. The most convincing (that I’ve heard) is a question aimed against scientific presuppositions and Anthropological methods. It seems that many times scientists and anthropologists go into studies with a bias toward darwinism and philosophical naturalism that skews results. Example: In finding Lucy, the anthropologists noticed that her feet were not the proper shape so as to support walking upright. They had already postulated that she was the missing link, and this assumption led them to believe that over time her bones had been bent and warped by pressure from animals walking over her skeleton. This assumption and others like it may lead one to question the conclusions scientists come to, not only in the field of evolution, but in many other areas as well. Even so, disproving Evolution does not necessarily provide support for the Genesis account (this is a logical fallacy called “affirming the antecedent”. We can’t assume that B is true just because A is not). In fact, there still seems to be good evidence that the world was not created in 7 days, is much older than 7,000 years, and that life did not develop in the way that Genesis describes. A person intent on taking the literal position would have to find convincing evidence to support the Genesis account aside from simply dismissing evolution.

2.) Take Genesis 1 to be metaphorical or poetic. Many suppose that the first chapter of Genesis is poetry, and thus conclude that it does not conflict with evolution. This is due to Genesis 1’s structure and poetic repetition. One problem this presents, however, is that the idea of the protohuman even as presented by Genesis 2 (i.e. Adam and Eve) is not consistent with an evolutionary idea of the proto human. Evolution posits (if taken to be true) that such a change from Ape to human (or single cell to multi-cellular organism, to aquatic animal, to ape, to human) would have been very gradual and would have started from more than just one set of humans. It seems that it would be difficult (note: difficult but not necessarily impossible or unreasonable) to reconcile the Genesis 1 theory with evolution. It is certainly possible, however, to hold that Genesis 1 is poetic while also using the argument from above to dismantle evolution. Thus, Genesis 1 can still be seen as metaphorical while also denying evolution. This may seem somewhat unsatisfying to some, however, as it leaves the exact account of creation somewhat vague. Furthermore, there exists convincing historical and scientific data that conflicts with more than just Genesis 1, but also with Noah’s ark, the tower of Babel, and many other biblical accounts of early humanity. These counter-proofs will also have to be dealt with.

3.) Take Genesis 1-11 as metaphorical. A study of ancient religious literature reveals that tribes would often relay important theological information through the telling of stories. Though these tribes would not have taken such stories as being literal (such as the Native Americans and the tale of the Great Turtle, or of the Diving Beetle), they still held them as sacred and understood the parables to relay important information about the nature of the divine. The same could be said of the Genesis account. A tradition of religious storytelling is clearly present in tribes surrounding the Israelites, and this tradition of learning through parables was one that was passed along from rabbi to rabbi, all the way up to Jesus himself. Genesis can be divided primarily into two sections: a macroscopic view of humanity from 1-11, and a microscopic view through the lens of the Abrahamic tradition in the latter portion of the book. The first 11 chapters draw heavily on surrounding Canaanite mythology (i.e. Noah and the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Genesis 1-2 account and early Canaanite holy rituals). It seems as though these stories were adopted and adapted in order to make a point. It would be easy to see how God, in desiring to relate to the Israelites through their own culture, took stories they would have already been familiar with and changed them slightly so as to reveal his true character. This view is compatible with evolution, as the purpose of the creation account would be entirely theological and not historical. If one does not accept evolution, however, then this approach can be somewhat dissatisfying as, like the response above, it leaves the creation vague and entirely unanswered. This is also not a popular theological position as it makes many uncomfortable to think that beloved biblical characters like Noah could be fictitious.


Is God a Genie?

“God’s not a genie, he doesn’t grant wishes!” This is the battle cry of many a Facebook theologian. I have to say I only agree with half of that statement. God is certainly not a genie, but I would argue that He does grant wishes from time to time. I’ve worked with kids for the past four years, and I’ve heard my fair share of genie prayers. “God, please help our football team win; God, please let me pass my test tomorrow,” or even, “God, can I have a new car?”.  I’ve not seen any of these wishes granted yet, and I doubt anyone will see such a prayer request granted. So what kind of wishes does God grant?

I’ll say up front that maybe “wish” isn’t the best word for it. A prayer should consist of something more along the lines of a humble request. Regardless of what we call it, the fact remains that prayer is powerful. In Mark 11 Jesus says, “Have faith in God…Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  I’m about to say something that may make a lot of Christians uncomfortable, though I’m not too sure why. The part of this verse most focus on is the “ask and you will receive”, but we ignore the “believe that you have received it” part. The problem with modern prayer is that it’s empty. Prayer for the early church meant putting all of your faith and trust in God, throwing your whole self out there because you knew it in your bones that God would not fail you! Today we pray more as a status update. The ole’ “Hey God, this is what’s going on, hope you do something about it, but I’m not expecting much.” But maybe you don’t believe me yet. 

In Matthew 17 we see a failed attempt by the disciples to cast out a demon. You may be thinking “Well duh, Only Jesus had that kind of power,” but you’d be wrong! When Jesus learns of their failure he rebukes them, not for trying to do something only he could, but for their absence of faith. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he says, “you could not only cast out demons but move mountains!”.  The disciples wouldn’t believe like that until well after Jesus had ascended to heaven. We see in the book of Acts, however, that the faith of the disciples had become much more than a mustard seed. They cast out demons, spoke in tongues, and even raised the dead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that if you have enough faith you get super powers. What I’m suggesting is that with enough faith, God can do amazing things through you, his son or daughter. Jesus told the disciples in John 14 that the those who believe in him will not only do the things he did, but that they would perform things even greater. God plans to do things through the church, through you and I that are even greater than what Jesus did. That’s not blasphemy, it’s straight from the Bible!



Tongues: Devil-speak or the Holy Spirit?

“Speaking in Tongues” has long been a point of controversy in the church. None would deny that accounts of this phenomena are present in the Bible, but many who are uncomfortable with such a strange miracle like to think that it is no longer present, that tongues is a gift God has chosen to remove. I beg to differ. What is tongues though? Many don’t even understand what it is, or why God would even bother with such an odd miracle.

The Bible has three different accounts of believers speaking in tongues, all of which are in Acts. The very first occurrence is in Acts 2, at the very foundation of the Church. Speaking in tongues was the miracle God used at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Church, at Pentecost. If this spiritual gift resides at the origin of the Church, why are so many against it? Why do so many deny that it exists any longer? I think it’s because tongues is a misunderstood concept. The word for “tongues” in Greek is glossa, and it does literally translate to “tongues”. The word’s common usage, however, is used to imply a foreign language. When it was said that a person speaks in tongues, it was simply meant that the person was speaking a foreign language not common to them.  This interpretation of glossa is supported by the account in Acts 2, as well as all of the other occurrences in the Bible.

So why did God choose tongues to kick off the Church? Couldn’t He have used something cooler like resurrecting the dead, the power of flight, or laser vision? So what if some Jewish guy is speaking Mandarin, I want a spectacle! I honestly do think speaking a language you’ve never known before is pretty cool, it’s just that there are much cooler things out there, so why did God choose tongues? To understand that, we have to go back to Genesis. In Genesis 11 we get a story about the Tower of Babel.  Most of us will recognize this story: the people of the world mess up big time, so to prevent more evil from coming of it, God has to separate people into different nations and languages. God’s original intent, however, was to have one big family. He wanted the whole world to be his sons and daughters, but sin and death messed up the plan.

It’s OK though, because God also has a plan to bring about this original vision of a united family despite what sin has done. Enter Christ and his Church. When the early church began speaking in tongues it was a powerful dual symbol. First, it showed that Jesus’s death had accomplished God’s purpose. Tongues was clearly a sign of the Holy Spirit, and so all of the Jews would know that God’s presence had returned to dwell amongst His people. Secondly, Tongues showed the people who weren’t Jewish that the God of Israel was their God too. Paul asks this rhetorical question in Romans: “Is God the God of the Jews only, or is He not also the God of the Gentiles?”.  Through Tongues God showed the people quite clearly that He was interested in people of all nations and cultures being adopted as sons and daughters.

I like to think that the gift of tongues is still out there, but as Paul says, it’s a gift for non-believers, not believers. Maybe that’s why we in the Christianized Western world rarely see a true speaking of tongues anymore (not the false speaking in tongues prominent in many Pentecostal and charismatic churches today which is very similar to the “speaking in tongues” of early Pagan traditions, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism).

What does tongues have to do with us though? Paul makes it clear that not everyone is gifted with tongues, so what does it matter to those of us who don’t have this Spiritual gift? I think it means everything. Tongues is present at the very foundation of the Church, and it reveals a great deal about God’s plan to unite all of the peoples of the world into one family. We need the message of Tongues today more than ever. Around the world, and especially in America, race is a dividing line. Because of recent events many fear those of Middle-Eastern descent, and because of older history there is thick tension between Whites and Blacks. There’s racial tension everywhere we look, it’s impossible to escape. This is the effect of sin, it is Satan who works to tear people apart like this, bringing us further and further from God’s image of a united family. We as the Church are called not to be White people, or Black people, or Arabic people, but to be God’s people. So how do we go about transcending these cultural boundaries?

No, Christians aren’t all gifted with tongues, but we are all gifted with the ability to transcend these dividing lines of race. God didn’t gift everyone with the ability to speak Chinese, Arabic, French, or even English. He did, however, give us all one universal language that transcends all other languages, a uniting language spoken among brothers and sisters. Love is that universal language, because Love is the language that God speaks.

Why Jesus doesn’t ask us to help: A note on the Syrian Crisis

Did you know that Jesus never asks his followers to help those in need? That seems like a crappy click-baity thing to say (and it is! I want people to read this), but in some strange sense it’s true. Jesus never once asks any of his followers to go out of their way to help because helping others wasn’t an option, it was a requirement to be one of Christ’s followers. Jesus didn’t ask, he told.   “Wait a minute! I’ve never read that in the Bible!” some may be yelling (I hope not, what Bible have you been reading???). If you’ll allow me the time of day, I’d like to introduce you to Christ’s true calling for us. One that’s not so watered down by Western philosophy and feel-good vibes.

In Matthew 25:31-46 the author of the gospel gives a picture of Jesus on Judgement day. Jesus is separating “the sheep from the goats”, in other words, those who have followed Christ and those who have not. The sheep, he says, gave Jesus drink, food, and shelter because they tended to the poor and needy. The goats, on the other hand, as good as ignored Jesus because they did not help those in need. The ones that helped are included into God’s family and inherit the Kingdom of God. The goats, on the other hand, do not. This helping of the needy, then, is not asked of Jesus’s followers, it’s a requirement to even be included among the sons and daughters of God.

Not convinced yet? There are quite a number more verses that say basically the same thing. The God of the Bible is one who looks out for the outcasts in society such as the poor, widowed, and yes, even the refugee. Check out some of these verses if you don’t believe me yet: Acts 20:35, Proverbs 19:17, Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 5:42, Proverbs 14:31, Luke 12:33-34, Hebrews 13:16, Mark 12:31, and Matthew 10:8. This isn’t even a complete list, not even close!

Now, pay special attention to those last two verses. The first is one that we Christians love to throw around, yet rarely ever practice. Mark 12:31 says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. In a conversation with someone, Jesus lists this as the most important commandment second only to the shemah (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength). Funny thing  about this verse: Jesus uses it again in Mathew 5:43-48. I won’t go into too much detail, but to summarize what Christ says about it: Your neighbor is anyone who is around you, even your enemy (especially your enemy).

Even more than all of this, God is a refuge for all of us (see Psalm 46:1-3, Proverbs 18:10, Isaiah 25:4, or Jeremiah 16:19). Is it not hypocritical for us who run to God as our refuge to then deny refuge to others? (Hint: God says it is, see Isaiah 10:1-4 or Amos 2:6-7)

Now I know what many may be thinking, “But helping these refugees is dangerous! Look what happened to Paris! God wants us to be safe.” That’s the thing that I don’t think many understand, God isn’t all about safety. Yes, God loves you, but many times he calls his people to do something down right dangerous (I won’t cite specific verses for this, just open up the Bible and read!). A verse many quote often is Matthew 16:24 (…take up your cross daily…). I wonder if any ever think about what that really means, or if they ever bother to read on from there? Jesus just told his followers that if they want to follow him they have to carry an instrument of death, pain, and torture. That doesn’t sound very safe to me. If you were to read on, you’d find that Jesus says things like, “he who would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He’s not asking you to be safe, that means that you have to be willing to die for Jesus. And many of the early church did die. 10 of the 12 original disciples were martyred for Christ (pulled apart by horses, flayed alive, crucified upside down, fed to lions, thrown over balconies; you know, all kinds of peaceful deaths). The two that didn’t die for Christ were Judas (who committed suicide in some way or another out of guilt) and John (who was still beaten relentlessly and exiled for his devotion to Jesus). Paul of Tarsus goes into great detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 of the many trials he went through for the gospel (he, too, was eventually martyred). As a matter of fact, when God called Paul to apostleship He is quoted by the author of Acts as saying “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).  In other words, God said “Paul, you think you can just sit around in comfort and worship me like all of the other Pharisees. You’ve been nice and secure in your job as the Christian witch-hunter, but that’s not how one follows me. You’re going to see how hard it is to really be righteous and holy, and how much suffering it takes to truly be a good person who seeks after the me.” Jesus the Christ himself, who we are called to model ourselves after (1 John 2:6, 1 Peter 2:21, Ephesians 5:21, Romans 8:29), did not take the safe path. He was constantly pursued by those who would kill him, and he eventually suffered one of the most torturous deaths imaginable because he refused to give up on following God. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying you have to die in order to serve God. I am, however, saying that if it comes down to death you should be so devoted to God that the thought of dying doesn’t hinder you in your work for the gospel.

So what do we do about these refugees? What do Christians do about these refugees? It’s clear that we’re called to help, even if that means endangering ourselves. Let me be more clear on what it means for a Christian to help though. I think that in our closed off Western society it’s become very easy for people to sit back and throw money at problems or send off a box of hand soap and canned food and then feel as if they’ve accomplished something great (myself included, sometimes). That’s not what Jesus meant by helping the needy. When Christ helped the poor he went out into the streets among the outcasts, the sick, blind, lame, and the lepers and picked them up himself. He healed the sick with his own hands. If you have the money or the resources to send to people for help, then by all means do it, but that’s not enough in Jesus’s book. He wants us to follow him in putting ourselves out there for people in need.

I’ve heard lots of people who are afraid to help the refugees. They’re afraid because of Paris. That’s understandable, and I’m not one to pretend it’s perfectly safe to help them. I’m also not one to propose we help recklessly with no caution at all, but we do have to help, even by bringing them into our own homes. You cannot sit back and deny these people refuge and then pretend you’re doing God’s work. The fact of the matter is this: Helping these refugees is no more dangerous than any other thing God calls us to do. There’s a chance every time you reach out to the homeless that you’re talking to a lunatic ready to stab you, take the money and run. There’s a chance every time you go to a poorer area on a mission trip that you’ll get mugged or murdered. There’s always that chance, and it’s no less present here with these refugees. The small chance that some may be dangerous, however, should not deter us from helping the thousands who aren’t. That’s what God calls his sons and daughters to do.

Part of being a Christian means having faith.  Unfortunately, that phrase today has come to mean, “Being a Christian means having the faith that God exists.” Believe it or not, this isn’t the kind of faith the Bible speaks of. Biblical faith is trusting that God is a good God, that he will uphold the promises he’s made, and that he has humanity’s best interest in mind even when the going gets rough. When we’re called to help, we often face many dangers. Doing the right thing is rarely a safe path. We as Christians, however, should be confident that, when faced with such danger, we are still guided by the Holy Spirit. God is still with us. I’ll leave you with Romans 8:31-39. The church Paul was writing to lived in a time when the Roman authorities were really starting to crack down on Christians (very brutally). The Gentiles who had just become members of God’s family were confused. They felt as though the work God was calling them to do was dangerous, and that they were throwing their lives away for nothing. Paul quotes a passage from one of David’s psalms, one that he wrote when he had similar feelings as those of the Gentiles. “For your sake we are being killed all the day long: we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered”. The early church (and parts of the church even today) saw their brothers and sisters butchered or tortured on a daily basis. They saw Christians go out of their way to help those in need and live out the Gospel only to receive death. Paul was fully aware that suffering and death come with the Christian passage, but he says God is not just using the church as pawns in a chess game. We’re not just sheep for the slaughter, though many may feel that way sometimes, we are God’s people, His family. Though we face many trials in doing God’s work, He does love us and He does all things for a purpose. The promise that he will restore the world to perfection, peace, and holiness still stands. It’s coming, but in the meantime we have to spread the Gospel, help the needy, and be a refuge for the refugees just as God is our refuge. It’s scary, it’s dangerous, and many who don’t understand the love and power of God would even say it’s foolish. That’s our call though, as Paul says, “We are fools for Christ’s sake.”


Looking towards Heaven: A philosophical venture into the mysteries of God, Truth, and the cosmos.


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