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Two Sundays, two mass shootings: Why do bad things happen to good people?

A spontaneous memorial to the victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, shown in this photo taken on Oct. 7, 2017. RNS photo by Kimberly Winston

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (USA Today) — As law enforcement pieces together answers about the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, the suffering caused in the attack also raises deep philosophical questions about God and evil.

President Trump called the violence that killed 58 people plus the shooter and wounded hundreds an “act of pure evil” during his Monday (Oct. 2) address from the White House. Trump pointed to Psalm 34 to comfort the nation.

“Scripture teaches us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” he said.

The president’s comments tap into hard-to-answer questions many ask in the aftermath of extreme violence like what unfolded a week ago at a country music festival. Why does God allow evil to exist? Why didn’t God intervene?

The questions arise because of two conflicting ideas: a person capable of horrific violence and a loving, kind and grace-filled God who created humans in his likeness, said Phillis Sheppard, a Vanderbilt Divinity School professor.

“It’s very hard to reconcile,” said Sheppard, who studies religion, psychology and culture.

While the Las Vegas attack is considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, humans have harmed each other for millennia. Accounts of violence and humans grappling with it can be found throughout the Bible too, she said.

On Oct. 1, a shooter fired into the Route 91 Harvest festival crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip, authorities said. It appeared that the suspect, Stephen Paddock, then killed himself.

Just one week earlier, in Nashville, another shooter opened fire at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, killing one woman and injuring seven people.

The minister, Joey Spann, leads the small congregation and was shot after a Sunday morning service. He does not believe God causes the violent attacks but does believe God allows them to happen.

Humans have free will to make their own decisions, Spann said. They can choose to do good or to do bad.

And they can choose love, too, he said.

“A lot of these times God gets the blame for what we choose to do,” said Spann, whose wife also was shot and remains in the hospital.

God can intervene, but Spann couldn’t guess why God did not stop the shootings on consecutive Sundays. While Spann has his own questions, he trusts God’s wisdom and is reminded that as a Christian he was promised a “perfect city” in heaven — not on earth.

Yet the quick succession of violence is still startling.

“It seems like it’s always so soon after. Just imagine how God feels watching his creatures do this. It’s one after another after another ever since Adam and Eve,” Spann said. “We haven’t handled that free will real well.”

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, believes mankind lives in a “fallen world” where awful events occur, he said in a blog post published Monday. Moore does not know why God did not intervene, but he believes that God stands against evil and violence.

“Our neighbors do not need us to provide easy answers to what is, this side of the eschaton (the end of the world), unexplainable. What they need, though, is a reminder for us that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be,” Moore said. “They need for us to weep and hurt with them.”

The Rev. Brian Hooper, a licensed psychotherapist and minister of pastoral care at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Nashville, believes that God enters into people’s suffering with them.

Violence is the result of a person disconnecting from others and the Gospel is all about what God does to reconnect people to each other, Hooper said. That’s why he has been offering free counseling to anyone needing to talk about the Las Vegas attack.

“God is in the embrace of each other, the consolation, the binding of wounds, the companionship we offer to each other. That is indeed where God is,” Hooper said. “The freedom to hate is the freedom to love.”

Beliefs on good and evil are not universally agreed upon. On “The 700 Club,” Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson linked the Las Vegas attack to a disrespect for authority, including for Trump and the national anthem.

“We have taken from the American people the vision of God, the whole idea of reward and punishment, an ultimate judge of all our actions, we’ve taken that away,” Robertson said. “And when there is no vision of God, the people run amok,”

Sheppard said comments like Robertson’s are based on a “broken theology” and are unhelpful to those who are suffering.

She believes evil emerges as humans look away and do not build community nor advance justice. God intervenes through human action.

“It’s not OK to turn a blind eye to this. It’s not OK to avoid the hard questions here of what ills this reveals about our society,” Sheppard said. “We are God, being present.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel, who leads Chabad of Nashville, said God’s ways cannot be understood.

“We just want an end to suffering, and we don’t wait or leave it to God to alleviate the suffering. He’s waiting for us to alleviate the suffering,” Tiechtel said. “That’s why you and I are here in this world.”

Making sense of suffering could lead to rationalizing it away and being unmoved to act, Tiechtel said.

“Stop looking for answers and start formulating a response,” Tiechtel said. “We should take our anger and turn it into a force for doing good.”

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Holly Meyer

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  • No time to discuss the issue yet, haven’t even skimmed the article adequately, but I’m glad RNS is bringing up the question. Important to many people.

    Nobody mentioned Jeremiah 18:7-10, so I’m mentioning it briefly. Not to give easy pat answers, (there aren’t any), but simply because anybody of any flavor can clearly see that America — all of us together — are in genuine trouble.
    Please consider Jer.18:7-10. Soon.

  • How about this? Instead of considering the words of someone dead for thousands of years, why not start doing something useful?
    Why not tear down your religion because it is based on hate and intolerance. You want to talk problems in the world? Look no further than religion. More people die ‘in the name of love’ than any other reason in history

  • What’s remarkable is that, even after a bit less than three millennia of Abrahamic religious tradition, and a few centuries after the invention of the theodicy as something of a formal theological tool to deal with it, we’re still having this discussion, and even thinkers well-versed in theodicies are still left resorting to variations on the incredibly-lame “the-Lord-works-in-mysterious-ways” appeal. 

    Oh, and … re: “Making sense of suffering could lead to rationalizing it away and being unmoved to act, Tiechtel said.” 

    Curiously enough, waving all that suffering off, using “the-Lord-works-in-mysterious-ways” appeal, has precisely the same effect. And the “it-must-be-God’s-will” appeal just sets it in concrete. A more rational and more effective solution would be to give up trying to reconcile a supposedly-omnipotent, omniscient, infinite and eternal creator-deity, who’s also supposedly benevolent, with the world we live in. Just put it to rest already, and move on, fercryinoutloud. 

  • Why do bad things happen to good people? We atheists say that you pays your money and you takes your chances.

    Religionists say that god has a plan. We just don’t understand it. That explains absolutely nothing, or explains nothing more than is required without a god.

    So, either god has a plan, god doesn’t care, or there is no god, not in the sense of a plan.

    Or it just doesn’t matter if there is a god. Not a sparrow falls but god knows about it. So scripture informs us, and scripture is true. So it just doesn’t matter. Not to god. Not to us.

    But probably it does to the sparrow.

  • floydlee,
    I read your Bible reference in Jeremiah and God’s word is meaningful and a great comfort to those of us who put our trust in God: “I will bless the person who puts his trust in me.”

  • PLease feel free, with my compliments. However, in the depths of your gratitude, please feel free to send me as many 100’s as you can. ???

  • I hate to burst everybody’s balloons here and in the article. But superreality-check, folks: God does much more than just “allow” massacres of either saints or sinners, or both. Don’t ask me how (the why I can handle), but producing massacres is His thing, actually; and not sparing even Bethlehem babies (when Jesus was a baby) and bible churches from them either, according to Matthew 2 and 24, and Revelation 6. And as all atheists and progs already know, but which my fellow born-again Christian brothers and sisters would love to deny, deny, the Old Testament is bloody full to the rim of massacres in the hands of God. I have no problem with that, because all I know and accept is: In Genesis, at the beginning of the bible, God created Pain. But only in Revelation, at the end of the bible, God terminated Pain. And that says a lot about God. Reject God, accept God, it doesn’t matter. That’s just the way God is. And The Only One Around There Is.

  • God creates massacres. There. I said it. No mystery. Just is. Rejecting God or believing God won’t make massacres go away.

    Nor Hurricanes Harvey & Irma for that matter. All from God.

  • What’s Paddock’s religion again? Oh that’s right, his brother said no religion, but ISIS said Islam. Which makes you gullible to propaganda.

  • Suzy,
    Most atheists are devoted to practicing and promoting sexual immorality and imposing their hopeless decadent ideology on other people’s children.

  • “We have taken away from the American people the vision of God … as ultimate judge of all our actions. And where there is no vision of God, the people run amok.” — Pat Robertson.

    Robertson sometimes says incorrect things, but I have noticed that he’s never quite 100 percent wrong about things.

    Maybe that’s why his critics hate him so much. His brief statement here is totally correct.

  • I honestly don’t know if America is “special” or not, or in what way. Just don’t know.

    But it was clear to Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln that America is a blessed nation. God definitely helped America out, or America never would have made it.

    They both specifically warned us all not to “forget God.” They didn’t even try to mince words about it. A simple math equation. America’s Survival = Don’t Forget God.

    But now here we are. America HAS forgotten God, very much so. We just having all kinds of fun without God, ain’t we? You see the results. And these are just the PRELIMINARIES.

  • A man must say no to god before saying yes to casting stones, judging others, treating others completely unlike how one demands to be treated, obsessing over the sex lives of other people, slandering and reviling them for being different, and best of all…
    failing to see the log in their own eyes before obsessing over the specks in others.

  • Yet another story you make up and tell yourself about his “critics”. As far as I can tell, having a vision of god doesn’t make anyone good, let alone holy– certainly not you.
    child molesting priests, and the bishops who cover up for them. Christian white supremacists. The Graham boy, not once but twice. Ted Haggard. witch burners. the KKK. And your hero, threatening nuclear war,

  • “God definitely helped America out, or America never would have made it.”
    And you know this…HOW?

  • The real issue for America, is exactly what Robertson said there.

    We are ALL running out of time, Ben. It’s gone beyond the yapping politics and media. It’s gone beyond your favorite sins and my favorite sins. Very real trouble is coming over the horizon.

    You can keep sleeping with your worthless excuses if you want; you been doing that for a long time. But now things are getting tight. Las Vegas, Chicago, Oakland, America. Worse is coming.

    So I’m honestly asking you to ditch the excuses, and at all costs, get that vision of God. Seriously place all your trust & faith in Christ, put all your eggs in HIS basket, while things are still half okay.

  • Re: “Maybe that’s why his critics hate him so much. His brief statement here is totally correct.” 

    No it’s not. It’s absolutely not true that “where there is no vision of God, the people run amok.” I invite you, or him, or any other militant Christianist, to demonstrate the veracity of this statement. You won’t be able to … but you could try. 

    In the meantime, remember that the medieval European milieux … which was about as thoroughly and uniformly Christian as one could hope to find anywhere … gave us endless warfare — to the point where castles had to be built in many places, for defense. And a lot of that warfare was Christians attacking other Christians. Even when attackers converted to Christianity from earlier paganism, it didn’t stop them from warring. For instance, Scandinavians started invading Britain in the late 8th century. But they continued attacking even after being Christianized, and the island was conquered by the very Christian Cnut of Denmark. 

    In fact, Christianity itself directly spurred more than a little warfare. There are, famously, the Crusades, in which western European Christians ventured the length of a continent to the Holy Land in order to claim it for their Jesus; but there was also the Albigensian Crusade in what is now southern France, in which forces of the R.C. Church went to war with the “heretical” Cathars, solely because they insolently refused to adhere to the Catholic faith. 

    As for the accusations of cannibalism made by the conquistadores against the native Americans … there may have been some, but the wanton slaughter they inflicted on the native nations — destroying them in the process — was out of proportion with any actual cannibalistic activity. So it makes no sense to assert that they killed native Americans in order to save them … because that’s not what they did. At all. Still, the cannibalism accusations provided propaganda the conquistadores used to rationalize what they did. You’re free to fall for their distortions, if you wish, but I’m not that stupid. 

  • Re: “Very real trouble is coming over the horizon.” 

    Oooh, I’m so afraid! 

    Thanks for the terroristic threat, Floyd, but I have no intention of ever knuckling under to you, or your friend Marion “Pat” Robertson, or your deity. All the threats and compulsion in the world can never make it happen. 

    That you feel it necessary to toss such threats around, in an effort to get people to say, do, and believe whatever you want them to say, do, and believe, speaks volumes about your character and the actual value of your beliefs. 

    And what it says, is not attractive. 

  • Ezekiel 3:18-19English Standard Version (ESV)

    18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for[a] his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

    While trying to help you, Christ has protected Him also.

  • Are you kidding me, Ben? You have as much access to History Channel, Military History Channel, and Nat’l Geographic as me.

    You already know Ben Franklin was aware that certain battles of the Revolutionary War could’ve “gone the wrong way.” But the “powerful Friend” (his words) was there.

    You already know that Abe Lincoln was painfully aware, again, that at certain key points, the Civil War was NOT guaranteed to fall to the Union. But “God is the Lord” (his words) was there.

    You already KNOW God exists. You know He intervenes. He does new stuff, even if “previous situations” didn’t work out for you.
    http://www.tblfaithnews.com/featured/war-stories-of-divine-intervention

  • Every threat you and your Christianist ilk throws at me, or anyone else, only serves to demonstrate the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of your dour religionism. It doesn’t matter that you sprinkle your presumably holy scripture in when you do it — as I said, that you have to resort to threats, in order to get your way, speaks volumes. 

    So please, keep it up! Continue proving my point — over and over and over again, if you feel the need. Your juvenile terroristic threats don’t make me cringe in fear — and nothing you can do will make me change my mind. 

  • I’m positively shaking in my shoes! 

    Not! 

    By all means, please, keep up the threats, though. I love it when you Christianists just keep proving me right! 

  • What, which and whose “God” was this “God? You didn’t specify. Following does:

    According to Gregg L. Frazer, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution, University Press of Kansas, 2012: “The [US] Declaration [of Independence] is an honest expression of the political theology undergirding the American experiment – theistic rationalism. … The authors were theistic rationalists … Theistic rationalists held some beliefs in common with deists, some beliefs in common with Christians, and some beliefs that were inconsistent with both Deism and Christianity”.

  • But they didn’t go the wrong way.
    You “know” god exists. I know nothing of the sort. But I don’t share your imaginative explanation of things.

  • Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”

    The thief, the prince of the world, the devil bring all these to the fallen world as the prosecutor of the Law. But Jesus promised and give to all life who believe in Him and His Word.

  • Re: good 

    Yes, it absolutely is “good” for you to repeatedly prove me right about your Christianism and further confirm (as though it were even needed) the validity of my apostasy. It’s “good” for me, that is. For you … er, uh, maybe not so much. But you’ll never acknowledge it, because you have no way to understand just how bad you make your religion appear. 

  • What “terroristic threats”? If your local TV weatherman says, “please take cover, we have a severe thunderstorm warning”, do you likewise accuse him or her of making a terroristic threat?

    So many wakeup calls. Have you seen how tons of American jobs that were lost in the 2008 crash have never come back at all?

    Las Vegas. Chicago. Berkeley. Charlottesville. DC. NYC. LA.

    Katrina. Harvey. 9-11. North Korea.
    (Do you think your atheism can handle the aftermath of a 9-11 nuclear encore? You ready for some North Korean party gifts and the disruptions / shortages they’ll bring?)

    No, I offer you no threats. Your daily newspaper does, but not me. I merely point to Somebody who can walk you through them.

  • The difficulty with your statement Psi – I don’t have a “religion”. I have a relationship with Christ.

  • Matthew 7:13-14New International Version (NIV)

    The Narrow and Wide Gates
    13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    Very few. Only the True Christians will enter heaven.

  • “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

    Anyone can look up and believe. would you? If you would, you are the “whosoever”.

  • Of course you do! You can’t have a “relationship” with a being whose existence is taught by a religion, without first being “religious.” To say otherwise defies logic in every possible way. 

    This is a very old protest I addressed many years ago, and debunked: http://www.earlychristianhistory.net/extras/definitions.html 

    Once again — and as usual — I’m way ahead of you. Remember … I’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. There’s no Christianist drivel you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard, and in most cases spoken myself. 

    Ecclesiastes 1:9. 

  • Re: “If your local TV weatherman says, ‘please take cover, we have a severe thunderstorm warning’, do you likewise accuse him or her of making a terroristic threat?” 

    No, because meteorologists deal in science. They deal in identifiable weather phenomena. 

    Re: “Do you think your atheism can handle …” 

    I’m not an atheist, so I have no idea what it can “handle.” I’m not even sure atheism is supposed to “handle” anything. 

    Re: “… the aftermath of a 9-11 nuclear encore?” 

    Your religionism isn’t going to protect you from a thermonuclear blast, if that’s what you’re trying to tell me. 

    Re: “No, I offer you no threats.” 

    Yes, you did. Grow up and own up to it already. 

    Re: “I merely point to Somebody who can walk you through them.” 

    Who? Where? I’m looking around, but don’t see anybody. 

  • No it doesn’t. I’m an agnostic. If I were to be able to see your deity, I couldn’t be that. 

    Learn the terminology, instead of ignorantly dismissing everyone who insolently dares not accept your dour religionism as an “atheist.” 

    https://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/agnosticism-faq/ 

  • Because people have free will and choose to do harm. Unless you believe that Gd is a puppet master making everyything happen.

  • It’s true that a lot of people are afraid of Christian who want to cause total war in order to hasten the Second Coming of Christ. And Christians who worship the deceiver in the White House.

  • Why do bad things happen to good people?

    Why not?

    Why are we born, only to suffer and die?

    Why not?

    And given all of the people who are saying, “it’s all god of god’s plan” — apparently, god’s plan includes watching your spouse die in front of you by an act of random violence– then the answer to both questions is indeed…

    Why not?

  • In there is a nuclear holocaust, it must all be part of god’s plan.

    So why should I care about your god? He seems to be only more monstrous than many of his followers in the degree to which he has the power to stop so much misery, and doesn’t.

  • My mother used to tell me to be afraid of the bogey man. That wasn’t wisdom, that was superstition.

  • Because If he were an atheist, and lacking a god who tells him that “raping children is wrong”, he would never be able to figure it out for himself, and thus would be raping children.

    Putting all of his remarks together, that’s all I can come up with. A bad case of projection.

  • So you blame your blindness on your mother? When are you going to assume responsibility for your own life?

  • It might be more to to the point to quit theodicy and work out legal changes that might prevent future gun attacks.

  • Is your “not a religion” protected under section 2(a) (“Fundamental Freedoms”) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

  • Most religious people I know are not ignorant or cruel (many are — Pat Robertson, Sandi, et-al.). Some of the cognitive dissonance in this article still does not yet shake any sense into many believer’s minds…It does for some, thankfully — the slow, steady rise of non-belief and the “Nones” here in the US. Below is typical sheep-like thoughts of true believers…

    -> “…Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, believes mankind lives in a “fallen world” where awful events occur…Moore does not know why God did not intervene, but he believes that God stands against evil and violence”

    Hmmm, so God created a “fallen world”, put us on it – then punishes us for being here with mass shootings. This is the definition of a sadistic monster. Also note that less religious places outside the US don’t seem to have as many of these gun-driven blood punishments from God.

    -> “The Rev. Brian Hooper, a licensed psychotherapist and minister of pastoral care at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Nashville, believes that God enters into people’s suffering with them…”

    Really…So God did nothing to prevent this suffering, or even planned it himself…just to enter into suffering with the victims. So is this God’s grace everybody talks about?

    -> “…God can intervene, but Spann couldn’t guess why God did not stop the shootings on consecutive Sundays…”

    So God can intervene and didn’t — Ok, then lets wipe the Good Samaritan parable from the Bible please…God likely opposes that act….God would have preferred the Samaritan sit on his hands!

  • They are less religious places wth gun control laws.

    God has a plan. Take comfort in that fact that when you’re dying a painful death from a horrible disease, or watching someone you love go through it while some pious religious person smugly informs you it’s all part of someone’s plan.

    God has a plan. Take comfort in that as the person you love more than life itself is bleeding next to you because of the actions of some psychopath living in a culture that loves violence as entertainment and guns as penis substitutes, but claims that it idolizes the fount of morality that has a plan.

  • Damien, you’re fighting a losing battle with that one, Christ told us to help people to have a relationship with Him and be blessed. If you have difficulty with that, perhaps you should look at yourself?

  • But Sandi, he may be gay — which I have no problem with…He did hang with 12 guys for a while, never married, decent looking guy, albeit you have to dig the dated hippie look. Even today in the middle-east…gay men still often form cultural groups and travel together, just like Jesus, Hmmm, who are you having a relationship with?

    But, in the end.I don’t have relationships with speculative beings…that don’t stop, and maybe even plan mass murders…like this Christ character and his dad. If real he’s a monster, so screw him !!

  • George Whitefield: Calvinistic Evangelist

    I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of us do.

  • “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

    Because conspiracy plotters don’t care who they assassinate and massacre.

    Truthstream Media on YouTube accuses the hotel and security industries.

  • “I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor.” Why? He explained: “Because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” —Ecclesiastes 9:11.

    21st century translation: “sh*t happens”.

  • Well, let’s see. In 1787, at the constitutional convention, Ben Franklin gave us a pretty good idea about who this God is.

    Clearly it wasn’t the deistic “always-on-vacation” god. Clearly it wasn’t rationalism. In fact, Franklin quotes the Bible to describe this God to his peers. So it’s obviously the God of the Bible that Franklin’s historic speech is actually referring to. Check out all of Franklin’s compelling description about this God:

    http://www.constitution.org/primarysources/franklin.html

  • BROTHER BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: “You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure. … I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. … Without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides, and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection”.

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