Is Jesus the Only Way?

During times when I have been immersed in Christian life and enthusiastically proclaiming the gospel message, there has been an urgency to my endeavours owing to a passion for Jesus and a fear that everyone who isn’t saved is going to hell. This is the basis for Christian evangelism, and this is why Christian evangelists can often seem pushy. It’s because they genuinely feel they have an exclusive claim to truth, and that the only way to avoid eternal punishment is by becoming a believer.

But if God is the omnipresent creator of the universe, then He has created every religion, not just Christianity. He is the creator of millions of Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Sikhs and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He is also the creator of all those people who are atheists, or agnostics. He has created literally billions of people who have lived and died outside of the Christian faith. Can it really be the case that all of these lives, with all their richness and diversity, are meaningless, because they are empty of Jesus Christ?

An alternative view would be that creation is a rich tapestry in which every thread, or every person, has a distinct and meaningful role to play. Existence can be seen as a grand performance in which God is expressing His infinite power by creating great diversity. Everyone who has lived and died has played out their role in God’s grand game, and God will bring everything together in a coherent way in the future.

Some Christians argue that nonbelievers are judged ‘by the light they have received’, meaning that even if they haven’t heard the gospel, they are still morally culpable, as they have been exposed to good and evil and have had to choose accordingly. This is a way of accommodating all those outside of the faith into the Christian worldview.

But I wonder whether every life might be valuable to God in its own right, because if God is the sovereign creator, sustainer, and animator of all there is, then everyone’s life has unfolded in exactly the way God intended, even if they did not embrace Jesus as Lord and Saviour and live a Christian life.


The above article is a modified extract from my essay entitled An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity which is available as a free PDF download from my Essays page.

54 comments

  1. In response, I defer to Matthew 7:13-23. They are eleven terrifying verses. They should sober up both those claiming faith, and those who don’t. There is a difference, as declared in these verses, but we may be very poor judges of who belongs to which group.

    One more observation, your position presupposes a peaceful tapestry as a metaphor for the Creator and His creation. The Bible depicts a cosmic conflict instead. And, from Scripture, we know the outcome of the war, but we also know the battles are sometimes lost. Ultimately, this life, this existence, and this universe, is not really about us at all.

      1. Yeah, the world doesn’t seem as peaceful as I’d like as often as I’d like.

        The move is going well so far. There is still much to do, but we should be all moved by Monday. A scary thought.

        I’m glad your interview went well. And I hope you get your permanent residency.

        Blessings upon you!

        1. Glad to hear the move is going well so far. Praying that everything goes really smoothly over the next few days.

          Regarding my accommodation – I would be so happy if I got the permanent contract, but am just having to take things one day and one week at a time. In any case, I have so much to be thankful for.

          Blessings upon you too, Matt!

  2. In a way, it looks as though since you are a proponent of a non-free will position, you’re exploring a more universalist position of those going to heaven rather than the classical ‘elect’ predestined position. Of course, this is all why I avoid using the word ‘salvation’ in my review of your post here because without free will, the idea of salvation would be silly, but the lack of ‘salvation’ in Jesus’ eschatological preaching makes little sense.

    Although, I will say that even in his own parables ‘will’ seems to be confused. In regards to the seeds sown on rocky ground or in thorns, it doesn’t appear that is those individuals fault, unless one argues that the anecdote represents the wills of those individuals. The parable of the wheat and the tares, I think supports more of a free will position as an appeal not to pull the tares for the sake of not losing the wheat.

    I will say this Steven, I don’t agree with your position, but I love how it gets me thinking about these issues. I love how you present your position in a friendly manner.

    I also wonder how well your position holds up against New Atheism’s challenge to the Classical Salvation narrative of Christianity. Have you had any encounters on your threads here ?

    Thanks,

    Philip

    1. Thanks, Philip, great to read your thoughts on my post and I’m glad some of my writing has got you thinking. I appreciate the kind tone of your comment.

      No doubt about it, my belief in God’s literal omnipresence creates a lot of problems in terms of the Christian worldview. As you suggest, salvation doesn’t make much sense if we are not free sinners. This is why, as much as I love Christianity and Jesus and the Bible, I struggle to commit to the Christian faith. But I have said as much in many other places on this blog so don’t want to frustrate my readers by repeating myself too much.

      I also wonder how well your position holds up against New Atheism’s challenge to the Classical Salvation narrative of Christianity. Have you had any encounters on your threads here?

      I’m not sure which specific arguments from the New Atheists you’re talking about, but if you’d like to elaborate I’d be happy to respond.

      Thanks again and God bless you!

      Steven

      1. There are several different various means of the argument, but I pulled this from a New Atheist blog: “Deism can be defended because you can posit a disinterested creator. The Christian, though, proposes an interested, mindful god,” The argument tend to point towards the pointlessness of salvation and God’s intervention anytime in human history.

        So would you argue more towards a deist position of God or more towards the Christian?

        Hope this makes sense.

        1. Hi Philip,

          I’m much less a deist and much more of a panentheist as I believe the whole of existence is an expression of God (because God is boundless, logically everything must exist within God).

          So it follows that salvation is a difficult concept for me because God would be saving people from aspects of their lives over which He has always had sovereign control.

          I hope that clarifies my position? If you’d like me to explain this further, or if you have any related questions, I would be happy to answer them.

          Peace and blessings,

          Steven

  3. This attitude is a key manifestation of monotheism – “there is only one God”. This produces outcomes ranging from missionary activity through to local witnessing and in extreme cases of murdering others because they disagree with the “believer”.
    The reality is that prior to the 6th century BCE Noe-Babylonian Captivity and Exile, the monotheists were a very minor and irrelevant part of the Israelite community. It was dominated by monolatry – they had their national god yet they recognised the real existence of other gods, with the other nations having their major national god. The Judahites even permitted temples to these other gods in Judah, for example.
    Today, we read the propaganda that was produced through that minority party of monotheists, who also wanted religious worship to become centralised in Jerusalem.
    The Captivity/Exile enabled the monotheists to dominate and Judaism was born, with its monotheistic “only one God” mantra. A key writer of that period is the anonymous Exile known as “Deutero-Isaiah”, whose writings were attached to the book of Isaiah, and begin at Chapter 40.
    Doug

    1. Hi Doug!

      It’s interesting that you look at the history of monotheism, and see this as important. It interests me a little, but I’m much more interested in the objective reality concerning what is true about God (rather than how God has been perceived over time). Do you think this is a valid distinction?

      Most of what I understand about God has not come from historical study, but rather inward enquiry, meditating on certain concepts, and reading sacred texts and other theology.

      I know that history is very important to you, but I just wanted to say something about my own approach to understanding God, by way of contrast.

      I hope that makes sense!

      God bless you and I hope you are well.

      Steven

  4. Hi Steven, You’re certainly not the first Christian to worry about the fate of people outside the faith. That is a serious challenge to the Christian message (as also to other faiths that proclaim they are the only way to God). But the Bible envisages situations where people form a relationship with God, despite a lack of knowledge of the teachings of the Hebrew, and later Christian, faith. Psalm 19 speaks of the witness of creation itself to the truth of divinity. And Paul picks up this thought in Romans 1:18-20, hinting that everyone on the planet has access to the truth. Paul was too intelligent to have believed that everyone on the planet could hear the gospel message that he was proclaiming. Until well into the 20th century there was no possibility of any message being heard right across the world.

    I don’t want to prolong this response, so will conclude with the answer that C S Lewis implied in the last of his Narnia books. In “The Last Battle”, a warrior who has spent his life fighting on the enemy side (i.e. against Aslan) is killed in battle and, stumbling through the doorway, is amazed to find himself welcomed by Aslan. Questioning how that could be, Aslan tells him that all the time he was serving the enemy he was really serving Aslan. I think you can see what Lewis was suggesting there.

    The question for us is, having found Jesus, then considered this question about his mercy (or otherwise) to non-Christians, do we want to abandon him? For me, the answer is a definite “No!” Whatever holes I have found in the broad range of doctrines that make up the Christian faith, I keep coming back to the incredible power of the Resurrection. Evidence that was strong enough to turn the disciples from scared, weak, disorganised failures into committed messengers of the Gospel, must have been overwhelmingly persuasive. Believing in Christ changed their lives experientially – and it is experience as much as study that has changed my life too. That doesn’t lead me to regard all non-Christians as ‘lost’. Though I am short of arguments to prove how God will deal with the many lovely people who have never come to faith in Jesus, I trust the matter to him.

    1. Hi Derrick,

      I love your comment, very thoughtful and insightful.

      I agree that the resurrection, and the many other miracles associated with Jesus, provide a compelling argument in favour of Christianity. I have witnessed astonishing miracles in the name of Jesus first hand. Then again, people of other religions also experience amazing encounters with God, and some of my most amazing spiritual experiences have been at those times when I have not been a committed Christian. So I don’t know whether miracles are exclusive to Christianity.

      I would say that there is an amazing peace and joy that comes from surrendering to Jesus, and I wish I didn’t have the intellectual problems I do with the Christian faith and could simply surrender to Jesus, and follow Him with my whole heart. I have tried to do this on several occasions, but the problems I have with various aspects of Christian doctrine refuse to go away. I often cry out to God about this – it’s a real struggle, because there is so much about Christianity that is compelling.

      God bless you and thanks for reading.

      Steven

  5. The philosophical weakness of monotheism is that it requires that God be demonstrably better than any other god. That leads to a kind of “deist arms race” that I call “escalatory monotheism.” Once we reach “God is everything” then we lose any creative potential, and there’s really no point talking about salvation or any other process of self-realization. Life becomes uninteresting.

    The essential nature of God was demonstrated by Jesus throughout his ministry: unconditional love. The conundrum elaborated in the Bible is “Can living creatures receive unconditional love without abusing it?” The Fall put us on the rocky path. Jesus was the “gate” because he was the existence proof that it was possible. He is the pattern that all of us must follow to reach “salvation” – which is to graduate from our material limitations into a realm in which we all are allowed to manipulate the powers that swirl around the Most High in heaven (read Revelation 21 and 22).

    You see the same basic message in all of the redemptive religions. That they don’t use the name “Jesus” doesn’t mean that they don’t counsel us to submit to the dictates of love. That is what is important, as Jesus simplified the Law (Love God and your Neighbor – don’t worry about yourself!)

    In that realm, many new things are possible – things unimaginable to us, and perhaps even unanticipated by God, who as love wishes for nothing more than that we manifest possibilities of relation that are unique to each of us.

  6. Unless there is some other perfect person totally devoid of sin – and there isn’t! – who lived a flawless life, shaping the world through history past, present, and future; who died in my place; overcame the shackles of death, and alone has the power – all by Himself – to create (ex nihilo: out of nothing), maintain, and speak life into all people, places, and things, both known and unknown to me and many others, then yes! As the Bible attests, HE IS THE ONLY WAY.

    Of course, there are always other paths that one can follpw, but there is really only one way that will take us where we want to go in the end. 🙂

  7. The wrath of God is an interesting concept is it not? But it’s His love and mercy that characterizes Him most. Wrapping my mind around this paradox has been a life-long endeavor, and I thank you for this thought.

  8. Hi Steven

    As you know, I believe that all humanity will be united with God, eventually.

    If there is an experience we would describe as “Hell”, I do not believe that it is for eternity, as some Christians do. Also, if I believed the scriptures that suggest Adam and Eve condemned us to sinfulness, I would have to believe that Christ, as part of the Trinity, has the salvific power to redeem us all. Some scriptural quotes below affirm some of my beliefs:

    When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself. Jn. 12.32

    The Father sent his Son as Saviour of the world. 1 Jn. 4.14

    If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully it is not I who shall condemn him since I have come not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jn. 12.47

    Like you, I cannot accept that people who have no access to Christ because they live in an autocratic Theocracy that is not Christian can be excluded from eventual unification with God; not that we will become “Omni” in all His attributes but that He will reclaim His creatures as I believe His desire is to conserve His creatures and not to destroy them utterly. I believe also that creatures who have become extinct on this earth have been reclaimed by Him.

    There is an alternative view but that depends on the freedom to make choices. Below is a link to commentary on some OT scripture and I would like to know your views on it, God willing, if you please.

    http://reknew.org/2008/01/what-is-the-significance-of-deuteronomy-3019/

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

    1. Hi Dinos,

      Many thanks for your comment, and for the link. I read the article, which presents an interesting perspective. Obviously you know my views pretty well, so you could probably predict how I would respond (i.e. we don’t have free will).

      I’m about to publish a post which elaborates further, although because you’ve been a reader of this blog for a long time (thank you!) you might be familiar with the gist of my arguments.

      God bless you and have a great week.

      Steven

      1. Thank you, Steven!

        I find your steadfastness in your belief that there is no free will endearing. I find myself swayed by arguments that offer some sort of compromise and I cannot fully settle with the notion that there is only God expressing Himself through everything.

        Peace and love to you,

        Dinos

        1. Hi Dinos,

          In many ways I wish I could just embrace the Christian worldview in a simple way. But yeah, it’s an ongoing struggle.

          I really appreciate the fact that you genuinely search for answers to all of life’s important questions. May God bless you for your efforts!

          Peace and blessings,

          Steven

  9. Interesting article. I am a Christian and I’m going to go by what the Bible says about salvation. I sure don’t want to depend on my good works or thoughts to get me into heaven. As for those who have not had a chance to hear the Gospel message, I leave their salvation up to God who is infinitely wiser than me. I understand your reluctance to commit to the Christian religion, but committing to a relationship with Jesus is not the same. Christians are imperfect. That’s why they need a savior. Jesus is perfect; that’s why He is worthy of my love and devotion.

    1. Hi Linda!

      Good to be connected and many thanks for your thoughtful comment. Having read through the Bible several times (and actually, I still read it every day) I have a pretty solid understanding of the Christian worldview, and also what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. However, if you explore my blog a little you’ll see that there are certain areas of Christian thought that I find very difficult to accept and believe. This article scratches the surface, but much more could be said. I do appreciate your passionate view though, it’s one I have held too, and I have often argued in a similar way. I very much understand where you’re coming from.

      Blessings,

      Steven

    2. Hi Linda!

      You are right to say, “….I leave their salvation up to God….” I would add that the salvation of all humanity is in God’s hands but it is difficult to imagine how God would exclude people from His Kingdom because of their ignorance of Christ. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how He might choose who to save among those who HAVE committed themselves to a relationship with Christ!

      My own view is that Christ has saved all humans (past, present and future) through His redeeming power, i.e. He represented humanity, was resurrected and later ascended to Heaven.

      Peace and love to all humanity,

      Dinos

  10. There’s a concept called “Middle Knowledge” that you might be interested to look into. It makes human choice freer while God remains completely sovereign. It rules out quite the perspective you’re hypothesizing, while continuing to maintain that God made, loves, and intends good for everyone, though not everyone will choose Him and His revelation.

    1. Hi Jenn!

      Many thanks for your comment. I’ve come across the concept of Middle Knowledge via a Molinist with whom I was discussing free will. Unfortunately I found it to be a very confusing concept. I’m so grateful that the truth (in my understanding) is very simple – that God is in control of all activity in creation.

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

      1. Hi Steven!

        I’d NEVER heard of Molinism before so this was particularly interesting to me. Below is an extract from gotquestions.org that seeks to explain what Molinism is –

        “Using middle knowledge, Molinism attempts to show that all of God’s knowledge is self-contained, but it is ordered so as to allow for the possibility of man’s free will. In other words, man is completely free, but God is also completely sovereign—He is absolutely in control of all that happens, and yet humanity’s choices are not coerced.”

        This explanation may accord with the views of some of your readers. Would you please explain where your view differs? I don’t want to assume I know the answer. My motto is, “Always check what’s checkable.”

        Peace and love to you and all your readers,

        Dinos

        1. Hi Dinos!

          Glad you found the discussion interesting.

          I haven’t as yet been able to get my head around Molinism; the arguments seem to be very complex and theoretical and I found them very frustrating. But my response to your quote from GotQuestions would be that the idea of God’s sovereignty being compatible with free will doesn’t make sense. The statement “He is absolutely in control of what happens, and yet humanity’s choices are not coerced” makes no logical sense to me.

          If you do any further research into Molinism, keep me posted, because I’d like to understand the theology even if I don’t agree with it. If you find a simple and clear explanation anywhere, let me know!

          God bless,

          Steven

          1. Hi Steven!

            You were right – it is difficult to find a simple and clear explanation of Molinism. The info in the pdf link below, a review by Steven Cowan of the book, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” (authored by Kenneth Keithley) is the best I could do. It won’t persuade you to believe in Molinism but it may help you to understand the philosophy:

            https://ochuk.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/cowan-review-of-salvation-and-sovereignty_a-molinist-approach-2010.pdf

            Peace and understanding to you,

            Dinos

            1. Hi Steven!

              I was glad to be of some service to you. It did me good to search and find something on Molinism that didn’t over-use jargon to baffle the reader.

              Peace and blessings to you,

              Dinos

  11. Y’all use a bunch of big words and I think that’s cool and all but I’m about to speak much more simply. Haha 🙂
    I believe that God truly loves every person. He did create them after all. I also believe that He wants everyone to be saved, but because of free will He knows there will be people who refuse. But He sent Jesus to die for our sins in our place because we will never be able to live up to God’s expectations. We all fall short. Anyways, Jesus loves you! God bless ❤

    1. Hi Chelsey!

      I liked your post a lot.

      I agree with you that God loves us all and wants to save us all. I don’t think we have a choice of not being saved because it is God’s Will that we all be saved. That’s why He sent His Son – to save us all. There are many references in the Bible. Here is just one of them –

      1 John 4:14 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

      How likely is it that God’s Son was unable to achieve the salvation of all humanity?

      Peace and love to you and all humanity,

      Dinos

  12. Great thoughts. Thanks for being willing to openly share your journey and your thoughts. Many of are working through the same questions, discarding some of the “traditional” institutional answers and being willing to put all possible answers on the table for discussion!

  13. ALL life matters to God! He could have created us to love him unconditionally, however, he created us with the free will to choose. He wants us to choose to love him, just like as a parent we want our children to choose to love us, rather than parents “make” them love them. Yes, God created us in spite of the mistakes that he knew we would make. People choosing Christ versus not choosing Christ is similar to putting everyone created in a super hot room, it is so hot that their clothes are soaked through with sweat. You enter with an ice cold Coca-Cola and everyone declines. The Holy Spirit returns inviting them out into the hallway and some followed him into the hallway. In the hallway the cokes were offered again and they accepted it. That is how we imperfect people are, we choose to accept the perfect gift of salvation or not. It is our choice.

    1. Hi Bamabreze!

      Many thanks for your comment, and for the Coca-Cola analogy 🙂 Actually, I don’t believe we do have free will, as God is in control of His creation. But you’re strong in your convictions so I may not be able to persuade you of that.

      But I’ll just leave you with a thought. When you pray to God, do you not do so knowing that He is in control of your life? For instance, you might ask Him to bless your job, or your health, or your marriage. Why pray if everything you do is done by your own will, and not God’s will?

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

  14. Jesus himself said, “In my father’s house are many mansions.” (John 14:2, 3) He wants all of his children to be saved. As you said, he made all of his creations to express his life. He is not a one-sided person. Just like the finest diamond has many facets, so does he have unlimited numbers of beautiful qualities that would describe him. Of course, most people on this earth are not really manifesting God very much these days, but it is his desire that they all be with him one day. I believe that Christianity is the highest way to know God because Jesus came as a man to show us an example of how to live. We can take his words and express them in our lives no matter what age we live in. We can use his principles to live a life closer to God. There is no limit to how close we can get to our father. Many other religions were begun by a man who had a revelation. Those revelations were good, but limited. Jesus came as God in the flesh, without limits.

  15. Interesting post for sure. These issues seem to fall away if you take away God controlling every single thing in the world He created. I think He can do anything but he leaves much up to us here on Earth.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matt. I agree that it’s a really central question whether, and to what extent, God is in control of our lives and circumstances.

  16. The more I study God’s Word the more certain I am that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I also understand that God is sovereign over all things. It is not my own skill that opens the Word to me but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
    That being said I cannot claim to know the things that God has not clearly revealed in His Word.
    I think of John 9:1-12 where Jesus healed the man born blind. Where Jesus explained that this man was born this way that God could demonstrate His power in him. I also think of the Exodus and how the Pharo of Egypt had his heart hardened against Israel 10 times.
    I do not know exactly what reason God has for all things that exist in the world today, but I believe that He is using it for good. I trust in Him. I do believe that the only way to God is through Jesus.
    The Word of God is clear to me.
    John 6:44 (ESV)
    44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
    John 14:6 (ESV)
    6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
    18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
    I do not know God’s plan, but I do know He gave us sound direction to move through a world filled with pagans. It is interesting to me. In the first century that included the Gentiles that Jesus sent Paul to preach to. I love how that is described in Ephesians 2.
    God Bless.

  17. Thank you, Steven, for liking my Thoughts on Easter! I clicked on your blog and after reading your essay on An Almighty Predicament, I’d like to share some thoughts, if possible. I’m not one to get into theological debate, but I hope that the words I share will be helpful to you somehow.
    With regards to non-Christians, I agree with you that everyone is loved by God, valuable, and has a role to play in God’s plan. I believe that all people, regardless of their religion, reflect the character of God to some degree because we’ve all been made in His image. Everyone’s life has significance in God’s eyes. But while God created all people, he didn’t create all religions. They were man’s invention to try to find a way to God, although the Bible clearly teaches that there is one way to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6) God’s love for and value of each person was shown through his willingness to sacrifice his life and comforts for their benefit; his salvation is offered freely to all, but not all will receive it. So, yes, all people are loved and valuable and have a role to play in God’s plan, but it’s presumptuous to say that all will be saved regardless of whether they’ve trusted Christ as Saviour or not. As Romans 10:9, 10 teaches: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
    Secondly, you wrote “If God is omnipresent, it logically follows that there is no free will. My understanding of omnipresence is literal, in that I believe every atom in existence is a part of God and therefore under God’s control. In this context, freedom to make decisions aside from or contrary to the will of God is impossible.” There’s a big difference between omnipresence and pantheism. God’s omnipresence was illustrated as David cried out, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7) God’s reach extends to every corner of the universe and every man’s heart. Your belief that “every atom in existence is a part of God” sounds more like pantheism to me (the view that God is in everything and everyone and that everything is God). While I do believe that God works through all circumstances and choices to carry out his purposes, it’s quite the stretch to say that we have no free will. If that were the case, there would be no sin, no punishment, no need for a saviour, no morality, etc. It would basically invalidate everything the Bible teaches. I’m not sure where you got this idea from, but it seems to be throwing a monkey wrench into your own testimony and personal experience of a loving God who has saved you, brought you joy, and whom you have witnessed miraculously heal and deliver others. If that doctrine were true, it would also invalidate the testimony of millions of Christians who willingly chose to believe Christ. Yes, Jesus drew us to himself, but we chose to believe of our own free will. Did God coerce you to believe him, or to write your blog, or was it a choice of your free will? Yes, God is omnipresent; yes, God is sovereign over all; but no, it does not follow logically that there is no free will. From the time of Adam’s creation, man has had free will to choose God or his own way. God is sovereign and man has free will; the two are not mutually exclusive. (Deut. 30:19,20)
    I’m praying that the Lord will grant you discernment as you try to sort out what you believe. Blessings to you, my friend.

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