Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Why ISIS Should Make Christians Rethink The Doctrine Of Hell

Screenshot 2015-02-18 08.19.46

The violence we’re seeing at the hands of ISIS is disgustingly barbaric. If mass beheadings, taking people into slavery, and throwing gay people off the tops of buildings wasn’t enough, they’ve now of course taken to burning people alive. First, it was a single pilot, but now they are parading 17 Kurds in cages with the promise that they’ll be burned alive too.

Burning people alive isn’t anything new, and certainly isn’t unique to ISIS– as Christians we have a long history with this practice as well. Many of the early Anabaptists faced this same fate for the “sin” of baptizing adults, as well as people who had the crazy idea that the Bible should be translated into common language for everyone to read for themselves. Heck, even Calvinism was founded by someone (John Calvin) who had a theological enemy burned alive for disagreeing with his theology (okay, in fairness to Calvin, he tried to do him a favor and get him beheaded instead).

Nonetheless, it’s 2015. Civilized culture has grown beyond the days of burning people alive, recognizing the practice as something that is completely offensive to any rational person. And, not just offensive- we consider it morally repulsive to the degree that many Christians want the perpetrators wiped off the face of the earth.

I must say, those instincts are correct– torturing people by burning them alive is morally repulsive. And so, we pray to God that he would intervene on behalf of these people who are suffering such unimaginable barbarism.

But here’s the irony of it all: while we find burning people alive morally repulsive when ISIS does it, most Christians seem to have no moral qualms about believing in a God they think will do precisely that. In fact, the traditional doctrine on hell paints God in a far worse light than ISIS– instead of just burning people to kill them, this doctrine believes that the people will never die– but will be tortured by the pain of the flames for all eternity. And somehow, they believe God will pronounce this as being good.

The doctrine of “eternal, conscious torment” can get even sicker depending how far one wants to take it: instead of people like Hitler being eternally tortured ISIS style, many would believe that folks like indigenous tribes living in the jungle who have never met a missionary or seen a Bible will all be tortured in the flames too. In fact, some areas of Christianity, such as extreme Calvinism, actually believe that God created most of humanity for the express purpose of torturing them in flames and that they have no right to complain or object– because God has every right to create things for whatever purpose he has in mind, including ISIS style torture.

I’d hope that if we could all detach from our individual Christian tradition for a moment and step back, we’d be able to see that this is actually sick.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that we were all created in the image and likeness of God, and that God has planted in our hearts a sense of justice and morality. When we see hostages paraded in orange jump suits, caged up and about to be tortured, we feel moral outrage– and I believe this moral outrage comes from the spirit of God within us, reminding our consciences that it’s never okay to torture a fellow image bearer.

That same moral outrage at images of hostages about to be burned alive (such as the image above) should also cause us to pause for a moment and rethink what we actually believe about God and his character. Is God perfectly moral in all his ways? Is God altogether good? Is he altogether lovely? Does God look exactly like Jesus– the one who said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?

If God is– and I believe he is— this alone should cause us to be willing to rethink and reexamine the traditional doctrine on hell as “eternal, conscious torment.” Because if we don’t, we’re saying that burning people to torture them is sick and twisted when ISIS does it, but that it’s good and wonderful when God does it.

I’m tired of the canned statements designed to stifle actually using the hearts and minds God planted inside of us.

“But you don’t understand God’s justice.”

“You have no right to question God.”

“Being tortured is what we all deserve.”

“What is moral for God is different than what is moral for us.”

And you know what, I call BS on all of it.

It’s time to question. It’s time to rethink.

Is it possible that our views on hell have been more shaped by medieval barbarians who practically burned their enemies for the sport of it than the actual words of Scripture and the nature and character of Jesus?

Is it possible that we have taken these concepts given to us by people who enjoyed burning their enemies and then read them into the pages of scripture?

Is it possible that God is actually Jesus on the cross dying for his enemies and not an ISIS terrorist torturing his enemies? 

I believe a solid case can be made from scripture that hell as a place where God eternally tortures people because they grew up in a jungle without Christian missionaries, is actually unbiblical (you can find the archive of my hell articles, here). But even before we get to the biblical arguments, our moral outrage at ISIS burning people alive presents a completely good and valid reason to begin questioning and rethinking this doctrine. God gave us a conscience that bears witness to his– let’s use it.

Because I am convinced that if we rethink, reexamine, and attempt to rediscover, we might just see that God is not like an ISIS terrorist burning his enemies– but God is actually Jesus on the cross dying for his.

(and if you’d like to read a book on this topic, I recommend Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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38 Responses

  1. Reading your article has greatly helped me, and I agree with you. But I still have some questions. Can you help me? I will pay attention to your answer. thank you.

  2. So what do we do with all these biblical texts:Daniel 12:2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.Isaiah 66:24 And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.
    Matthew 18:8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
    Matthew 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
    Matthew 25:46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
    Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
    Mark 9:48 …where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
    2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
    Revelation 20:10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

    I think the bible is pretty clear

  3. I understand what you are saying, but the thing is that Jesus suffered an excruciatingly painful death to pay for a person’s sins. If that person refuses “repent and believe” the will have to pay for their own sins. Personally I would rather be burned alive (especially if doused with accelerant beforehand) than hang on a cross for 6 hours. Also, Hell doesn’t have to be a place of eternal suffering, scripturally speaking… It could be a place where the soul suffers but then is ultimately destroyed, becoming non-existent. Jesus speaks of Hell as a of Destruction.

  4. Damn it. My fellow brothers and sisters of Christ. We are all approching the end of times and it is very important to band together as one. Why are we so flurred up about what happens to those who have rejected Jesus? Who is incharge of what happens to them? Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is a great and divine person who died for our sins and it’s only right we bolster our relationship with him everyday and trust in him. Why not muster all this efforts into defending the Christian faith and standing up for the Word of God in a age of secularisim and relatavity? The amount of people out there who are ‘evangelising’ Atheism and other worldviews is increasing by the month and here we are quaralling amongest ourselves. The truth is clear: Those who reject Jesus Christ as their saviour will be separated from God and placed in Hell. What happens after that is in God’s hands. Sheesh…

  5. Um, crucifixion is horrible torture, too. You talk of god dying on the cross – but what kind of god requires a horrible, bloody, agonizing sacrifice before he will forgive? You’d think he’d at least be able to live up to Matthew 5…

  6. Thanks for the article. It certainly is interesting that the traditional concept of a burning Hell is not found in the Old Testament. It is not found in the book of Acts where it would be expected to be found when the disciples first went out and preached. It is not found in any writings of the first and early second century writers either who either were taught by or indirectly knew the apostles.

    I do not believe Hell is a place. It is a person. God. The only thing mentioned in the Bible that is “Eternal” is God and God’s attributes. Eternal means without beginning or end. In order to believe Hell is eternal, a person would have to believe that Hell never had a beginning. This is nonsense. The only thing that never had a beginning is God. Hell, even when Jesus mentions it, is a description of God’s wrath at the end of the age when He will consume all evil. A river of fire issues forth from God, encompasses all evil and consumes it. That is why the Bible calls God a consuming fire.

    There are 400 verses in the Bible that have the common theme of the end of the wicked and what happens to the wicked after death. 393 of those verses say the wicked are annihilated and destroyed after death and certainly do not burn forever. I find it disheartening that the majority view in Christianity of a conscious tormenting Hell is based on exegesis of seven verses. This is nothing more than following the traditions of men which Jesus warned about when He told the Pharisees, “Your tradition makes void the Word of God”. The Hell doctrine as taught as conscious unending torment is a sleight against our Great God and is not Biblical.

    I believe God is a loving God and at the same time a God of justice and will in no way acquit the wicked. Let the Muslims and uneducated Christians believe in Hell. Let Christians who study our Bible and love Christ believe what God claims about Himself; that God is just.

  7. I am surprised that this article has no biblical backup and yet the bible has plenty to say about the subject of what hell is, if people live through eternity in hell fire. I recommend all to go unto Amazing Facts website where you can find a thorough biblical explanation of what happens when you die. This includes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In a nut shell the Bible does not teach eternal torment. Even the passage in Revelation regarding this issue is misunderstood since it is not read carefully and without scriptural research. In Isaiah it says here a little there a little, in other words those things that are difficult to understand need to be thoroughly searched in the scriptures to understand its meaning. Rest assured God’s judgment is perfect and the rewards will be perfect as well.

  8. Ben, I really want to go here with you with respect to the doctrine of Hell. I agree that eternal conscious torment seems extremely far from the nature of God that we as Christians believe in, however like you I take the words of Christ very seriously, if not always literally. That said, what of the parable of the lambs and the goats, what of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man? I am not saying the Lord meant eternal Hell at this point, as I haven’t the ability to pick apart the Koine and Aramaic behind His parables. My take away message from the NT is that Christ promises eternal rewards for those that serve Him faithfully, and some sort of unpleasant fate after death to those who willfully reject him. That I think we can agree on. As far as what is warned against in NT, I’d like to hear more about it. Annihlationism, or even an eternity drifting in nothingness without the presence of God, or the ones you valued while you were alive, doesn’t seem pleasant, so it’s not as if you are advocating living a bad life, on the contrary, it’s still obvious that one should get right with God and Christ at the earliest opportunity to avoid “perishing” or the “Second Death,” whatever those things mean. We know they are not good.

  9. It is a common belief amongst anabaptist as well as OOM and OOA’s that there is no hell. Not that they are right but that is their belief.
    As far as God enjoying people going to hell, God doesn’t send them they send themselves. The key thing is that God is just. In order for justice to be served a price must be paid. Christ died to pay for our sins but unless you accept his gift to you of salvation, then you fall under the law and justice.
    All those folks that never heard a missionary? Welll they saw Gods creation. The very creation gives them testimony to him. So they are without excuse.

    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

  10. I noticed you Italicized “do him a favor,” indicating you recognize that putting someone to death has similar moral problems. Not sure why you’re still on the annihilationist track with the quality, heartfelt reasoning you’re showing in this post. Your true premises and chosen eschatology are not yet consonant.

    Christ’s conquest of the grave was such that nobody has to be an interminably lost (apolesas) sheep or coin. Christus Victor = endless opportunity and ultimate hope. Purgatorialism is Biblical and historical (just as annihilationism is).

  11. Benjamin, I just read this article as well as your article on Scripture and Hell. Thought provoking. I’m trying to figure out if you are arguing against the concept of an eternal hell or the concept simply of hell? It would seem from the latter scriptural article that the second death is through the fires of hell, but here you seem to be arguing against even that. Can you help me understand a little better what you’re saying?

  12. It took ISIS to make this guy realize something that should have been obvious to begin with. Hell is made up, twisted nonsense. Welcome to reality. Don’t stop there. Pick out all the contradictions in your religion and toss ’em. This medieval way of thinking is holding back the whole world, and actually responsible for groups like ISIS.

  13. I don’t really understand why you think Jesus came to die if there isn’t a hell to save us from? Seems a bit extravagant. Also, what do you make of Jesus himself talking about hell? Or, for example, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

  14. There is a difference between these two scenarios. Innocent people are being burned alive by those who have no right to judge. God warns us full well that “the wages of sin is death”. It isn’t his desire to torture us; quite the opposite. Can anyone argue that we have not been forewarned? Didn’t Christ suffer much worse to save us? The answer is so simple…just accept Christ as our loving Savior–God’s intent for us. And when you read the doctrine of hell…everlasting refers to a time period until the physical being is destroyed, not a literal we will burn forever and ever, just until our physical being is no more. Look into it.

  15. I couldn’t finish reading this because the outright hypocrisy. God apparently implanted good in the hearts of many, but in others he seemed to have implanted the exact opposite and stands idle as they torture the ones that apparently got the doese of goodness.

    Only in a religious mind could such an irrational thought live.

  16. Who’s ever ideal it was to rethink any situation that God is doing, boe; you’re causing some folks to disbelieve. Quite frankly, I don’t think you have a full understanding of who God & Jesus is. So before you talk, know God’s purpose by speaking facts & not this fiction you call rethink.

    You wanna know something funny? We as Muslims & Christ believer; as well those that pray for God’s mercy & salvation, ISIS comes to start Armageddon….lol… We all die; and if you have read the bible, it would have inform you about the end of times; in which everybody gots to die & that means. Our choices are ours to make, but Isis. Is that bitter and hasty nation who God to was speaking about the book of habakka. So our days are in counting…lol lmbo….Lol…..lmbo…..Lol…..lmbo…lol

  17. The problem here is the Greek idea of an “Immortal Soul” which is NOT Biblical (God only has immortality). Scripture also says, “The soul that sinneth shall surely die” and Eve was told that if she ate the fruit she would die — not live forever in hell. Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed with eternal fire (according to Jude) but they are not still burning. It is the effect, not the duration that is eternal. Check out the book, “Light on the Dark Side of God.”

  18. Great post, Ben. It always amazes me at how vested people become in defending the conscious eternal punishment, as seen by many of these comments. If only so much passion was put into loving others, which cannot be disputed by any biblical interpretation, what an positive impact we could make for the kingdom of God. I enjoy your posts. Keep challenging the status quo!

  19. What a twisted article this is! Hell is punishment for the devil and all who’s names were not written in the book of life. When Jesus says “depart from me I never knew you” – on that day – where do you think they will go? Revelation 20 tells us where. We either believe Gods word or we don’t! If you want to play fast and loose with the bible then how do you know you are saved if what is written can be re interpreted? The cost of rejecting Christ and his teachings is MASSIVE! It’s eternal! No second chances.

  20. Question, Benjamin – when Jesus talks about judgement, what does he say about it? Is it pleasant? (Not that Love isn’t central to Jesus, but) Does Jesus talk more about love or judgement?

    Maybe Jesus was warning us about something he thought was real and ‘not good’. I can agree that maybe some of our thoughts on what judgement looks like are different from what Jesus had in mind, but i think we need to be careful not to throw out what Jesus said about judgement because it makes us feel uncomfortable with respect to our current worldview of the moment.

  21. There’s a great book out by Steve Gregg, called , All You Want to Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. It’s critiques and explains 3 Christian views of hell followed by Christians over the last 2000 years. Most Christians are only aware of the Eternal Tormenting side of hell.

  22. www dot hell truth dot com will exigetically and hermeneutically credibly & biblically explain away the patent arguments of

    “But you don’t understand God’s justice.”

    “You have no right to question God.”

    “Being tortured is what we all deserve.”

    “What is moral for God is different than what is moral for us.”

    Never the less a mind convinced against it’s will is of the same opinion still. The Holy Spirit is the one charged with convicting. We can only share what makes the most sense to us with the info we’ve been given. And this website does a fair job of that for me.

  23. “Is it possible that our views on hell have been more shaped by medieval
    barbarians who practically burned their enemies for the sport of it than
    the actual words of Scripture and the nature and character of Jesus?”

    ## No, it’s not, because this author was not mediaeval:

    “…14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

    “42 Whoever will cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if he was thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire, 44 ‘where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having your two feet to be cast into Gehenna, into the fire that will never be quenched— 46’where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire, 48 ‘where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.'”

    The doctrine of punishment in fire after death is from the NT – it is not mediaeval in origin.

    FWIW, I have no problem believing there is a Hell. Nor do I see any contradiction of the Love of God. IMHO, the fire of Hell (whatever reality the metaphor stands for) is the Love of God, but experienced as Wrath by those who have made themselves the kind of people who are unable to experience the Love of God in any other way. I believe that the Love of God for the Blessed in Heaven, the fires of purgatory that purify & purge the Holy Souls about to enter Heaven, and the unquenchable fire that torments the damned, are all one and the same thing: three different modes of experiencing the Love of God, that differ because the attitudes of the three classes of recipients differ. If God’s Love for the damned were not unchangeable & eternal, there would be no Hell. God’s Love is known by those in Heaven as His Love, because they are responding to Him in the way men are created to respond to God. Heaven is eternal because God’s Love is eternal – and Hell is eternal for the same reason.

    There is nothing cruel in this: God desires our conversion to Him, not our damnation. He even died for us to prevent our damnation, for it is sin, and nothing else, that separates creatures from God. Hell is sin; sin experienced without the illusions that protect us from it. And Hell, or a small foretaste of it, can be experienced in this life. It is not cruel – except on the part of the damned – and it is not in the least arbitrary.

    The doctrine of eternal damnation, though exceedingly austere, takes the reality of our power to choose good or evil with the greatest seriousness. It does us the immense compliment of treating us as responsible & intelligent beings whose freely-made choices have great power to have effects, whether for good or ill. This is a refreshing change from ideas that we are the playthings of our neuroses, hormones, DNA, economic forces, or “luck”. Objections to it seem to emphasise the unpleasantness of Hell for those “in” it, while ignoring the Holiness of God. IOW, a lot of the objections seem to be man-centred, not God-centred.

    BTW, people were not burned “for sport” in the Middle Ages. Heresy was looked upon as paedophilia is now – as an horrendous crime that needed to be punished lest it infect & corrupt the whole of society. The most remarkable feature of many of the Inquisitorial tribunals is their mildness – Bernard Gui, bishop of Carcassonne from 1321 to 1323, was Inquisitor in Southern France from 1307 to 1321. He tried 930 cases of suspected heresy; 42 executions resulted. This is less than 2% of the total – & it compares extremely favourably with ISIS.

    If there is a Hell, the cruelties of ISIS are no reason to reject the doctrine – if Hell is a reality, the cruelty of men is no reason to reject the conviction that it it exists. That would be very confused thinking. If 2 x 2 = 4, no atrocities committed by arithmeticians in enforcing belief in the fact could ever be a reason to dispute the fact.

  24. As a non-believer, it is always entertaining to watch people endure these mental gymnastics to try and reconcile concepts that are fundamentally irreconcilable. Eventually, people will realize that it is ALL bollocks, and spare themselves the death of several million brain cells.

  25. Great post, to get people thinking. Here’s more to think about. If God is going to burn people in Hell for not behaving right or loving Him, that means Billions are going there. Makes God worst than Hitler. Hitler killed only 6 million, but Perfect Love can Kill 6 BILLION? Think about it please. Ask Him about it.

  26. Here’s a question… if the end of hedonism is obliteration, then the choices we have are 1) live in Glory with Christ 2) nothing. Its a very strong argument FOR hedonism and a self serving lifestyle! Get what you can now, whats the worst that can happen? Rape, plunder, abuse, kill, get wealthy, rip off old folks, burn people alive, hurt everyone, destroy your kids though bad choices. Nothing matters because the worst that can actually happen is… well… Nothing.

    I agree that people should not be condition to love God to avoid consequences, but rather that they love God for Who He is, but I’m struggling with the permissiveness of your theory.

  27. Benjamin, you’re going to need to back this article up with scripture. Otherwise, none of this has any credence. Which it doesn’t.

  28. Do you actually mean to say that God is not a barbaric sadist imperialist and might even be exactly the opposite in Spirit? Wow, that would be Good News! Thanks!

  29. I do think we have accept that God is both perfect love and perfect justice–and we fall into important errors when we deny one or the other. I’m not confident as to how exactly this plays out. If God isn’t going to deal justly with the evil we see in ISIS (and everywhere else) in the life to come, then I must deal with it in this life–and that will lead to vigilantism/vendetta/blood feud/revenge and the world will be even worse. If God will deal justly with evil, I can content myself with that and focus on being an agent of peace in the world and not an agent of justice. More thoughts here:

  30. Have you seen any of those videos on youtube of people who say that Jesus took them to visit hell so they may warn the world?

  31. Benjamin Corey there are two points I must make to this posting.

    1. Your opining “many would believe that folks like indigenous tribes living in the jungle who have never met a missionary or seen a Bible will all be tortured in the flames too.” Gods word says in Romans 2:14-15 “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another”

    What the Lord is stating through the apostle Paul is if the indigenous tribes living in the jungle who have never met a missionary or seen a Bible would obey just the Ten Commandment without knowing it then those indigenous people will have eternal life and be with the Lord in Heaven.

    2. The word of God says 2Timothy 3:16 and 2Peter 1:21 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2Timothy 3:16). For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2Peter 1:21).”

    The word of God was not invented in the mid 1500, but has been forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). The word of God states clearly in Revelation 20:12 about the dead who are in hell that they will be called up out of hell to be judged by God. And Revelation 20:14-15 says “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

    So those people in hell after they have been judged are going to be caste into the lake of fire along with death and hell where they will die a second time. The only two humans who will be tormented day and night forever and ever are the Anti Christ and false prophet (Revelation 20:10)

  32. I know, Ben, you believe in non-violence so this does not pertain to you, but I wonder about this ‘outrage’ about ISIS burning the Jordanian pilot to death. Is it the act people are outraged about? Are they just as outraged about the use of flame throwers in the Pacific theater of World War II? Or the incineration of over 200,000 at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or the Napalming of villages in Vietnam? Or the How many of these outraged people would be just fine if it was a ISIS member in that cage? Or Osama bin Laden? I wonder.

  33. It’s just one of many things that I’ve seen where many of us have that particular kind of dissonance. It’s amazing just how many things fall into that category, barbaric when humans (specifically, people we don’t like) do it, but good when God does it.

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