Is Death a Curse or Blessing?
David Brandt Berg
God is righteous and God is just. God is fair and God is loving, so I know He knows what’s best when it comes to natural disasters. If He allows thousands to die in earthquakes and natural disasters—“acts of God,” as they’re called in insurance policies and laws—then we know that it’s God’s will for some reason, and that His reasons are good and fair and just and loving and even kind.
After all, those who were killed are, as the world would say, the “lucky” ones or the blessed ones, because if they did know the Lord or they did have faith or believe, they’ve gone to a better world where they’ll learn better. The ones left behind and suffering either pain or grief are the ones God is still trying to reach.
For the others, the lesson is over and school is out and they’ve graduated to another realm to learn, possibly because they couldn’t learn here. But the ones left behind are the ones to feel sorry for, who are still suffering sorrow, grief, pain, and deprivation.
When God takes people, it must be their time for some reason. When they asked Jesus about the people upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, whether they were more wicked than others, the Lord said, “I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5). Only God in His wisdom knows exactly why He allows so many to die in a natural disaster, but it’s apparently their time.
It’s a big subject and a question that the world has wondered about for ages, even Christians and theologians and church leaders: Why does God allow so many people to be killed? Why did He destroy the whole world in a flood? Because they were so wicked He just couldn’t let them continue. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:5–7).
The thing that people wonder about is why natural disasters so often seem to strike the poor and the needy and the helpless and children and the innocent. When you realize there’s a better world hereafter and the afterlife is one to be anticipated and looked forward to, who else but those who are the most suffering and the most innocent need to be relieved of this life and will appreciate the next life more than ever? Who else deserves to go sooner?
As someone has said, “The good die young!” This isn’t always true, but it often seems true. Who better deserves to go on to a better world than the good? Yet most people say “they don’t deserve to die.” To “deserve to die” for us means a promise and something far better than we have now.
To deserve to die means we have finished our job. “We have fought the good fight, we have kept the faith, and from henceforth is laid up for us a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). So we deserve to die, having finished our job. To us, death is a blessing and a relief and an exit from the suffering of this world.
It’s the ones who are left behind that are to be pitied, the ones who don’t die. But those, no doubt, God is trying to teach lessons to and prepare for the afterlife to get them ready to die.
Death is not a curse for little children and the innocent and ignorant and the poor and the suffering and the less responsible, the less accountable. Death is not a curse for them, because they go to a better world and a better life and a relief from the evils of this planet. Perhaps this is why the Lord allows so many of the poor and the young to die, those who are suffering just almost beyond endurance in this life. Therefore the Lord takes them out of their suffering and out of their poverty and out of their pain and out of their starvation, and blesses them with death—which to those upon whom He has such mercy is a mere gateway, an entrance to a better life in which they’ll be relieved of all this.
People have difficulty getting over this habit of considering death a complete curse, that to die is horrible. Everybody will be rewarded according to his works and according to his sins. He says that they which did things deserving punishment, stripes, having known their Master’s will and still having done those things, shall be beaten with many stripes—they will receive severe punishment. But those who knew not their Master’s will and yet did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes (Luke 12:47–48).
Their punishment will be very light, corrective, no doubt of the chastisement nature, and they’ll undoubtedly then repent and be forgiven and be given a new life. Not the same as those who are saved, not the same as those who serve the Lord faithfully here and repented here and now before death, but there are going to be plenty of people repenting after death.
Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison, and there wouldn’t have been any point in preaching to them if it hadn’t been possible for them to repent and be sorry for their sins and to receive some kind of opportunity thereby to get forgiveness and to find a better life, to be delivered from their imprisonment in the heart of the earth. Whatever it was or what it was like is not clear, but if it’s spoken of as a prison, and that’s bad enough (Matthew 12:40; 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6; Ephesians 4:9).
For Jesus to come and preach to them, it was obviously to give them an opportunity to believe and receive that they had not had, and to be released or saved. Theologians argue about it because it doesn’t fit their particular doctrine, but it’s right there in the Bible! Why would Jesus have gone to the trouble to preach to them unless there was a second chance in some way—really their first chance—and an opportunity for them to be sorry and repent and be forgiven and released?
God probably has as varied terms and means of punishment and correction in the afterlife as there are in this life. He’s probably got a great, wide variety to show people how wrong they were and to give them an opportunity of repentance and change—as has been manifested in many near-death experiences.
God actually let them leave this life temporarily to show them their mistakes when they couldn’t learn any other way; to actually come face to face with the judgment angel and be showed and taught where they were making their mistakes and what they were doing wrong, with the opportunity to correct their life and even to go back and live again in order to change.
If God will do that for the living, then why not also for the dead? And if there’s a chance to repent and change not only here but there, then there must be some opportunity for forgiveness and release from punishment and from chastening and such purging as Purgatory. I’m a firm believer in Purgatory, as the Catholics call it, but not necessarily their kind of Purgatory. Whether it’s hellfire, the Lake of Fire, or whatever, it’s a purging.
It seems from all I can gather from the Scripture that the lake of fire is pretty bad punishment for the very worst! To be cast in the Lake of Fire you’ve got to be a pretty wicked sinner who has been really defiant of God and every opportunity God has given you to repent, and have really done a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people; like Hitler and some others (Editor’s note: Communist dictators and those that financed and put them in power), someone who has turned many astray.
That’s the kind of people the Lake of Fire is reserved for—including the Devil and the False Prophet and the Antichrist and all his crowd! That’s very plain in the Scripture. (See Revelation 14:11; 19:20; 20:10,14–15; 21:8.) These are the very worst and the ultimately wicked who have slaughtered millions and destroyed nations and killed babies and innocent women and children. Hell could hardly be bad enough for some of those people.
But for the people who haven’t been that wicked, but have been disobedient—especially, of course, for those who knew God’s will and knew the truth and defied and disobeyed it—they’ll receive a very great punishment even though saved. They’re going to receive a certain amount of correction for their disobediences, even though they claim to be saved.
It says “his master,” so He must be their master; they must be saved. In this case He says, “That servant which knew his Master’s will and prepared not himself neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not his Master’s will”—in other words, the ignorant and innocent, those who never heard the Gospel and never heard about Jesus—“and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47–48).
These folks, they not only didn’t know it was their Master’s will, maybe they didn’t even know there was a Master! But if they didn’t know their Master’s will and did things worthy of stripes, they’re still worthy of some punishment. Because the Lord Himself in His Word says “This is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Everybody is given some light.
This is the greatest question that has plagued the world for ages: Why great disasters that slaughter thousands of innocent little children and babies and women and mothers and old people, the helpless. Why these disasters? The same age-old question, why pain and suffering and why even death?
To those who have faith, to those who know the Lord and have implicit confidence in His love and His mercy and His righteousness and justice and fairness and implicit belief in a life after death—a better life, a place where things will be corrected and made right and people will be rewarded according to their works, whether they be good or evil—we know there’s an answer, and I think the answer’s pretty clear even in the Bible, as well as through experience.
In order to understand the problem and know the answer, of course, you must believe in God and His love and His faithfulness and His righteousness, goodness, mercy, justice and fairness. Then you know there’s got to be an answer, a good answer, why He has to do this or allow it to happen. If He doesn’t do it, then the Devil’s done it; but He allowed him to do it, so it’s almost the same thing.
God allows these things to happen! He allows the Devil to wreak destruction and horror such as war through wicked men that take thousands of lives. If you have total confidence in the future and in a better life after death, then you can certainly understand why God even in His mercy would sometimes take thousands of people out of this world and their suffering and their pain and their agony and their oppression and their poverty.
When they get to the point where they’re possibly suffering beyond endurance, He releases them and takes them into a better world where they’re relieved of all this pain and agony and poverty and suffering and starvation and sickness—most of it caused by man himself and his own sins and the sins of others—and all of it caused, of course, by sin of some kind. All of the suffering, pain, tragedy, sickness, war and death is caused by sin, somebody’s sin—either the sins of the people who are suffering for their own sins, or many who suffer for the sins of others.
I think that’s going to be part of the punishment of the wicked: to have to suffer the sight of the very suffering they caused, maybe for a long time in retrospect in God’s movie houses of the future life. What could be worse in the afterlife than the constant review of the pictures of the pain and suffering and agony that you have caused others, to witness their suffering? What worse punishment could you have than to see in the hereafter all the damage you’ve caused and all the people you’ve caused to suffer; all the pain and agony you’ve brought through your sins and oppression and wars and cruelty?
Apparently there’s some hope even for these people if God’s going to allow them to suffer the sight of what they have caused to try to bring them to repentance, to make them sorry so that they can be forgiven. For others it looks like there’s almost virtually no hope of their ever repenting, like the Devil, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet.
Jesus says they will be cast in the Lake of Fire as well as those who follow them, that take the Mark of the Beast and worship him. “Cast into the Lake of Fire which burneth for ever and ever!” It says, “The smoke of their torment ariseth for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11), but that’s where you have to go back to the original Greek to see what the actual word “for ever and ever” means.
This does not mean in every case eternally; it means “ages upon ages.” “Aenon” is the word that’s used in Revelation 14:11, and the word used for “eternity” is a different word. Even the word using aenon to represent something which is virtually eternal, going on and on seemingly forever, is a doubling of the word aenon, which means age. In some places this word aenon—which is translated in the Bible, of course, by the Catholics or Reformers or the Church of England—is translated “for ever,” but it literally means “for an age,” and an age has limitations; all ages have ends.
This is all in Dr. Charles Pridgeon’s book, Is Hell Eternal or Will God’s Plan Fail? He was a Presbyterian minister who could not believe that God would cast everybody who didn’t know Jesus into an eternal hell of fire and brimstone, the same kind of punishment for everybody, for the innocent as well as for the Hitlers and the guilty. So he began to search the scriptures—is hell really eternal? If so, then it looks like God’s plan is going to fail if He can’t really redeem mankind, if He can’t really save man and “cause all men everywhere to repent” or “cause every knee to bow, above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth” (Acts 17:30; Philippians 2:10).
So he found scriptures indicating that the time would come when everyone would believe, everyone would repent, every knee would bow, everyone would worship the Lord, every man would know Him, everyone would be corrected, and virtually everyone would change—whether they did in this life or in an afterlife of some kind; whether they did in a hellfire type of Purgatory or in some milder type of punishment or retribution or chastisement and judgment for their sins.
But virtually all punishment, including in this life according to law, has some kind of end. There comes a time when the sinner has paid for his sins with his imprisonment or his fines or even with his life. This satisfies the law of man, why not the laws of God? Perhaps some people pay for their own sins, since they wouldn’t believe in Christ and they wouldn’t believe in His death, so they have to suffer the prescribed punishment pronounced upon sin, and that is death.
Everyone will die, but those who receive Christ’s substitutionary offering in their place do not have to suffer the kind of death that the sinner will suffer, but suffer only a mere momentary cessation from this physical life in an almost instantaneous transfer to another life in the Spirit which is far better (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
But the kind of a life that the sinners are transferred to who have not repented, have not received Jesus, who even rejected Him when they had a chance and have done evil, “knowing to do good and doing it not” … they deserve some pretty severe punishment, including death to begin with. They receive a lot of punishment in this life, and in the world to come they receive even more until they get straightened out.
Certainly not everybody deserves the same kind and the same amount of punishment and the same severity of judgment as do the worst of sinners. Many simply didn’t know the truth, never heard the Gospel, never even heard about Jesus, didn’t know about His love, were ignorant of their Master’s will, but they had still done things worthy of stripes and had sinned.
It’s an amazing, wonderful thing that the world over, even in the darkest jungles and the most remote places, even aboriginal people have seemed to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and know that certain things are sins and that it’s wrong to do them. God’s basic moral standard against, for example, stealing and killing and things like that, is pretty universal. Nearly every kind of culture, even the most primitive culture, knows that these things are wrong and have laws against them.
“This is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). The Holy Spirit by His faithfulness speaks to the heart of all and tells people when they’re doing wrong. They know the difference between good and evil, even if they may not have known all of their Master’s will.
They may not have even known their Master, they may not have known the Gospel or the truth or the Good News of salvation, but they knew the difference between right and wrong. If they then, therefore, in spite of that, did things worthy of stripes, it says they’ll be beaten with few stripes. Their punishment will be light, comparatively speaking.
Whereas those who knew their Master’s will, knew the Bible, had heard the Gospel, knew about Jesus, knew it in all of its fullness, and yet did things against the Lord and against their Master’s will, “shall be beaten with many stripes.” They will suffer severe punishment both in this life and the afterlife.
The wicked suffer now, although it doesn’t always look like it. For example, riches don’t make people happy. Robbing the poor, making themselves rich has never made them happy. Their wars don’t really bring them happiness. Alexander the Great at 33 years of age had conquered virtually all the known civilized world in only ten years, and yet he died drunk and sobbing like a baby, “Alas, there are no more worlds to conquer!” It didn’t satisfy.
The rich and the powerful receive a lot of punishment right in this life. As many of them say, “Yes, I believe in hell; I’m living in it right now!” As the Word says, “some men’s sins go before them”—in other words, they’re judged even in this life and they suffer for them even here and now. “But other men’s sins follow after”—they’re not going to get theirs until after they die (1 Timothy 5:24). They’re not going to get their full punishment until the afterlife, and that punishment is really going to be effective.
They’re going to get it sooner or later, because God is just and God is thorough, and “every man will be rewarded according to his works” (Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23, 20:13, 22:12). We’ll even have to “give an account for every idle word, for by thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37). That’s why it’s so important to confess Christ by your words, with your mouth (Romans 10:9–10).
God is just, God is loving, God is pure, God is holy, God is perfect, and everything will work out perfectly in the long run. There will be perfect judgment and punishment for the wicked, and perfect reward for the righteous and the believer and the one who obeyed the Lord. But it will all be to the same end or purpose.
For those who still have to be punished hereafter, the punishment and the reward will be designed and tailored according to their deeds, for a reason. For what purpose? Just to get revenge? Just to be vindictive? God is not that type of vengeful God, vindictive, only wanting to make people suffer for their sins.
It’s for a purpose: to bring them to the light, to demonstrate His goodness and kindness and love, and show them what damage they did by their disobedience and their lack of love. Why? To hope for belief and to hope for godly sorrow and repentance and a change; that if they did not choose to do good here, that they will be shown in the afterlife how important it is to do good, and will choose to do it there.
It’s sad that they have to wait until then to find out or to decide, and those who wait until then will never be able to walk in the Holy City and enjoy the greatest blessings and joys of God. But obviously they’ll be outside in varied degrees of punishment, reward, freedom, imprisonment, or whatever it may be, until such time as God deems that they have served their sentence, suffered enough, repented enough, and they will be released or relieved.
He makes a difference between few stripes and many stripes, but whether few or many, they all come to an end. A few is a number, many is a number, and whether few or many, the stripes come to an end when they have received enough to have accomplished God’s purpose to cause them to repent, see the light and be sorry, and turn away and change. Having received the punishment that they deserve because they refused Christ’s sacrifice, then they have to suffer for it.
If they reject Christ’s suffering, His atonement, His substitutionary death for their sins, then they have to suffer for their own sins. So therefore, they then will suffer the judgment and serve out the sentence until they have suffered enough to pay for it, and then they will be released from whatever that is and allowed some better life—but not as good as those who received Him in this life and repented here and now and served Him here and obeyed Him in this world and did good in what they could now, here on this earth, and who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior, as their substitution, sacrifice for sins.
We are completely forgiven. We are completely relieved from the punishment of sin, “For the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin”—past, present, and future (1 John 1:7). But not them, because they rejected Jesus and they rejected His blood and they refused to believe and they refused to receive, therefore they shall have to suffer for their own sins, their own punishment.
Jesus does not take it for them because they have not received Him. In a way, He took it for everybody; He died for the whole world, but only those who receive it get it (1 Timothy 4:10). So that’s the story, and I’m convinced that if things aren’t squared in this life, they certainly will be in the next, good or evil.
Therefore, great disasters that sweep thousands of lives into the next are undoubtedly in some way good for the people involved. Those who die go right into a life where they’ll certainly be taught what’s right and wrong. And for many it will be a release from the agony and the punishment and the pain, like Lazarus the beggar, who begged at the rich man’s door and the dogs licked his sores.
The Lord says he suffered his here and had his evil things here, but now he’s going to have his good things. Whereas the rich man had good things here and he was going to suffer for his sins in the afterlife (Luke 16:25).
Those who did evil in this life but maybe didn’t suffer enough for it here will suffer for it afterward unless they have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. In that case, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). But some will have to pay for their sins by death, suffering, and pain in this life and the afterlife.
It’s a very big subject, one that has plagued the world for millenniums and caused men to wonder and question and argue as to why. Why these disasters, earthquakes, floods, eruptions, wars and famines that wipe out tens of thousands of people?
In many cases it could be a blessing in disguise to relieve many of the poor and the pitiful and the suffering and the oppressed and the starving from their agony and their suffering. They’ll find that death is a blessing, even if they didn’t know the Lord and didn’t know His Word and didn’t know Jesus. I’m sure God’s going to have mercy upon them, and His relieving them of this life is going to teach them the things they need to know in the next life, because we didn’t get to them in this life—our responsibility (Ezekiel 3:18–19).
The church didn’t fulfill its obligation of reaching them with the truth and the Gospel and Jesus and His love in this life, so where are they going to learn it? Certainly God wants them to know it and learn it sometime, sooner or later, and if they don’t get it here and now, they’ll get it there and then. I’m convinced of it.
It says that, “Then no man shall say, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Him” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11). If everybody’s going to know Him, then they’re all going to know the truth and all know Jesus. They may not know Him as well and as personally as we do, because we already knew Him in this life, and learned to know Him well, communicate with Him well, and love.
We have only happiness and joy and beautiful eternal rewards to look forward to in the next life, because we have received His substitutionary sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ, and His blood shed on the cross, so that we are relieved from the punishment and the penalty of the sin and relieved from the sentences that will be passed on others at the Great Judgment.
That judgment is for a reason! All the people who ever lived, whether good or bad, if unsaved, will have to stand at the Great White Throne Judgment of God (Revelation 20:11–12). Not at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Judgment Seat of Christ is a different judgment, in which we are judged by Christ Himself because we know Him, and there He will reward us according to our works (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Christians will be rewarded either well or poorly, because if they served poorly, they’ll be rewarded poorly. Or if they served well, they’ll be rewarded well. Some in the Resurrection, He says “will shine as the stars,” those that turn many to righteousness. They’re going to be shining stars! Whereas others will be “raised to everlasting shame and contempt”—but nevertheless raised, and nevertheless rescued from death and this world (Daniel 12:2–3).
How you interpret it depends on whether you believe in God or not. How you interpret it depends on whether you believe in the afterlife or not. Of course, if there were no afterlife, then the whole thing is a farce and a tragedy and travesty against justice. But there is an afterlife where things are squared up, the good and the righteous are rewarded, and the evil are punished.
Why weep for those who have been taken and gone on to the next life? They’re the blessed ones! It’s those who didn’t die, who stay behind and suffer, that you are to pity and be sorry for, because they’re still having to suffer in order to learn what life is all about, and suffering helps us to learn. As David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but in my affliction I cried unto the Lord and He saved this poor man out of all his troubles” (Psalm 18:6, 34:6, and 119:67). Affliction and suffering drives people to God, at least those who can be driven. With some, affliction and suffering causes them to curse God all the more because they’re still unrepentant, as God’s prophets said of them (Ezekiel 3:7; Matthew 23:37).
So suffering is a catalyst; suffering is the test-tube time to see if you either have the grace already to take it by faith, or if it can turn you to grace, cause you to call upon God and ask Him to forgive you and cause you to repent and cause you to seek His mercy and His love and His salvation. Or whether the same suffering is going to cause some to reject Him the more and deny Him the more!
Ralph Underwood was a famous atheist—head of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (AAAA), the biggest atheistic outfit in America at that time, before communism. He once told me, “Dave, all those years I went around preaching against God and claiming He didn’t exist, I knew He existed, but I just hated Him, and therefore I didn’t want people to believe in Him. So I tried to destroy their faith, undermine their faith, and wipe out their faith in God, if they had any.” Of course, if you have real faith in God, it can’t be wiped out.
What little thread of childlike belief or whatever it was they had, he went around trying to destroy because he hated God and didn’t want people to believe in Him. He said, “I cursed God and hated Him for the life I’d had to live. I had been an orphan when I was a child, and I learned to hate God.” But look how the Lord, in spite of his hatred and working against God for years, finally saved him—through suffering! He had some kind of crash or accident that finally brought him to God.
In general terms, suffering can do one of those three things: It purifies and humbles and cleanses the saved and draws us even closer to God; it turns some of the unsaved to God, to repentance and salvation as in their suffering they cry unto the Lord; and then for the totally unrepentant, the renegade or utterly wicked, it causes them to curse God all the more and therefore be all the more deserving of His judgments.
I’m completely, utterly convinced of the righteousness of God and His love and His mercy and His justice and fairness and that He does only the right thing and the thing that’s good for us; or that is deserved by the wicked, which is also good, of course. Even the judgments of God are righteous. The works of God are good and not evil. They may seem evil, look evil, and appear to some people to be evil, but even so-called evil is good if God is in it.
We’re certainly not to be sorry for the dead, only except perhaps for those who died unrepentant and in unbelief and rebellion against God. I’m sorry for them. And for the good poor who died, it was a release and relief from their sufferings and from their hardships and hard life and oppression, depression, pain, and deprivation. I’m sure that God has a fair and just reward for them, and relief from this life was undoubtedly with thanksgiving and pleasure.
In a sense we all live in a measure of suffering in this world under the curse of suffering, pain, sickness, death. So it’s for the living that we need to pray—for the mercy of God and relief of suffering if they repent, or a tightening of the screws if they don’t. Pray for the millions of the poor who still suffer.
It’s for the millions who still live that we need to pray and whom we need to reach with the Gospel and the love of Christ and the message of salvation and His forgiveness and His joy and happiness, His love. These are the ones that we need to be praying about and worrying about, or at least concerned about and caring for and striving to help—not those who are already dead and have passed on to their reward, whatever it may be.
We’re not to weep for the dead in that case, unless they were wicked and evil and have gone on to more suffering, in which case perhaps our prayers might help them. “All things are possible with God, and the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Matthew 19:26; James 5:16). Since they are still in a stage of learning and being taught in hope and preparation of their repentance and turning and changing and becoming purified and purged in Purgatory, then surely we can pray to that end, and that’s good prayer. In that case we can yet pray for the dead, the unsaved dead, that they may learn in the afterlife what they failed to learn here.
But most of all we need to pray for the living and those who are still alive and can still be saved here and now and miss all that, that they can be spared having to go through even more suffering and agony and teaching and training and chastisement and judgment and punishment in the afterlife. We need to be concerned with trying to save the people now, building a fence at the top of the precipice instead of a hospital at the bottom.
We need to work on the ounce of prevention now rather than worry about the pound of cure later, because it’s so simple and so easy that they be saved now and spared all that, so that the quicker they die the better, the sooner the better, except to live for the sake of others.
God is just, God is good, God is merciful, God is love, and I believe it with all my heart. No matter what happens or how it happens or what great disasters befall the poor and the meek, “they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And those who die, if they were good and did the best they knew how, they’re better off and they’re out of the suffering and agony of this world.
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