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MOLTMANN'S THEOLOGY OF CONTRADICTION

BY JERRY A. IRISH

"As resurrection hope- liberates believers from death, placing their confidence in God'sfinalvictory over death, so the cross enlists their lives in a constant battle against death in all its forms. . . The believer cannot identify with the promise of resurrection without participation in the cross of the present. . . 'Peace with God means conflict with the world/ "

STRAIGHT-FORWARD interpretation of the resurrection, an honest acknowledgment of death, and a systematic exL . ploration of their contradiction characterize the religious thought of Jrgen Molt mann. Resurrection and death in contradictionthis tension is at the heart of Moltmann's theology.

I
Moltmann's understanding of resurrection and death, and the dynamism of their contradiction, has significant implications for religion in America. His view undercuts any form of civil religion that unites citizens, institutions, and God in a cooperative effort to achieve peace and justice in our time. Evolutionary continuity between America and the promised kingdom is contradicted by Moltmann's interpretation of Christian eschatology. Since a person at peace with God is a person in conflict with the world, any alliance between church and state, or church and university, or church and middle class morality (or anti-middle class morality), is an alliance immediately suspect. The Christian mission leads the church to oppose and transform society, not to protect and preserve it. Christian social activists and personal pietists alike might agree about this without seeing the consequences for their own longstanding debate. But Moltmann's theology of contradiction offers an equally harsh critique of the liberal-conservative, corporate-individualistic, involvement-withdrawal controversy so often generated within and between American churches. One party to the debate may recognize the brokenness of creation but fail to see that Christian faith is in God's new creation, not our mending. The other party may recogJcrry A. Irish is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California. He is a graduate of Cornell University, Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and Yale University, and his new book, A Boy Thirteen: Reflections on Death, was published by Westminster Press in March. In 1971 he received a Stanford University faculty award for excellence in teaching.

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nize that healing must come from God, but fail to see that the scope of that healing goes far beyond individuals. Neither side of the debate (and this is what is typically "American") seems willing to accept the contradiction that characterizes this world for Christian believers. The juxtaposition of cross and resurrection denies any notion that there is a logical connection between present social action and the future kingdom. Also denied is any notion that the "Jesus trip" can be a private journey without pain. Oddly enough, neither side of the controversy can take the cross seriously because neither side takes the resurrection seriously. The liberal is unwilling to accept the resurrection message that salvation for all really will come from God, and that it will far exceed our social vision. The conservative is unwilling to accept the resurrection message that salvation for all really will come from God, and that it will far exceed our private vision. The liberal is prone to say that all of us have almost arrived. The conservative is prone to say that a few of us have already arrived. Both sides need to recognize that if the resurrection really is the raising of Jesus from the dead by God, then the cross is neither a social strategy nor the necessary discipline for a middle class success story. It is the "abiding key-signature" of Jesus' lordship in the world.1 It is active solidarity with a broken creation that must wait for God's redemption. It is the contradiction one enters into when one hopes in the resurrection.

II
Moltmann asserts that Christianity "stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus from the dead by God."2 Jesus' unique identity is in the contradiction between crucifixion and Easter appearance. The life revealed in the resurrected Jesus is qualitatively new. It is not the repetition of mortal existence nor the culmination of some immanent processive evolution. God takes up the old in creation of the new, but the result is transformation, not renovation. The raising of the crucified one anticipates the transformation of the world through the presence of God in the cross. Cross and resurrection mutually interpret one another; only if we return to the former can we properly comprehend the significance of the latter. Just as a person of faith sees beyond the cross to the resurrection promise of reconciliation, so a person of hope must see beyond or "back to" the presence of God in the cross. Otherwise the resurrection is a denial, not a contradiction, of the reality of death. So it is that the Easter appearances of one who lived and died in the world signal a return to the cross. Until the fulfillment of God's promise, the cross remains the abiding key-signature of Jesus' lordship in the world.
2

Brgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (Harper, 1967), p. 158. Hereafter cited as TH. Ibid.,p.l65.

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The continual movement from cross to resurrection and back to cross involves the believer in yet another contradiction. "Only with Easter does the cross of Jesus become a puzzle."3 Why must the Messiah suffer such a death? Why must the one who bears the promise of victory over death bear the defeat of the cross? Why must the one whose appearance heralds the coming of God's kingdom first suffer God's abandonment? Moltmann finds one answer to these questions in the missionary sermons in Acts. God raised Jesus from the death meted out to him by his contemporaries. So God's glory is found in the resurrection, while humanity's evil is found in the crucifixion. But Moltmann finds a more profound answer in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The God who accepts Jesus in the resurrection abandons him in the cross. In this sense Jesus' sacrifice is God's sacrifice; Jesus' suffering is God's suffering. In the cross-resurrection puzzle, God becomes involved in the theodicy question, taking up judgment and damnation so that we may live.4 Looking at the resurrection, the believer sees the crucified one. Looking at the crucifixion, the believer sees the one who is coming in glory. In this act of identification, the future is pulled into the sufferings of the present. The cross becomes the present form of the resurrection. The cross is the God-forsaken suffering and death of the one who promises a kingdom in which God is all in all, and the dead are raised. This event of identification in contradiction is, for the believer, an eschatological demonstration of the faithfulness of God. Another way to speak of God's presence in the cross is to speak of the believer's relation to Jesus. Moltmann argues that believers find their future in Jesus, not merely like Jesus.5 The church is not waiting for what has already happened to Jesus to be repeated. Rather it seeks to participate in Jesus' future. He is the source and not simply the first instance of risen life, and the present concrete manifestation of that source is the cross. That is where the believer anticipates the transformation of the world. An eschatological theology must find and show forth the spirit of resurrection in the suffering of mundane existence. "Easter is the invisible ground of faith, but the crucified one is the visible object and the continuing encounter of faith."6 Instead of seeking God in some vague beyond, the believer must seek the God who is coming in the concrete agony of the cross. Fellowship with the risen Lord is fellowship with the crucified Jesus. It is fellowship with those who mourn, those who are weak and hungry, those who suffer persecution or neglect. The believer finds solidarity with the present unredeemed creation, struggling after salvation. In
Jrgen Moltmann, Hope and Planning (Harper, 1971), p. 42. Hereafter cited as HP. Ibid., pp. 42-43. In the next section we shall see how Moltmann develops this view in this concept of "the crucified God." *TH, pp. 82-83. 6 HP, p. 40.
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the agony of this world the future of God's new creation is present only in Christ's cross.7 In the disparity between the promised future and the experienced present, the resurrection initiates a missionary consciousness of history. Faith, hope, and love are united in active mission. Confident that the barriers of suffering and death have been bridged in deed and promise, faith transcends the brokenness of the world. Aroused by the contradiction between resurrection and cross, hope seeks to transform the world. Identifying with the creation that still suffers and dies, love embraces the world. The vision of a new creation is rooted in Jesus' resurrection, not the present human situation. The world and its inhabitants have obviously not been saved; the work of God has not been completed. The brokenness of creation meets us everywhere in hunger, crime, disease, and warfare. The present has its relation to the promised future in contradiction. Christ has been raised beyond the reach of death; not so his followers. The end of death's dominion and the overcoming of all opposition to God is still to come.

HI
Even if one did not find Moltmann's interpretation of the resurrection convincing, it would be difficult to fault his understanding of death. His honest acknowledgment of the negativity of death is a much-needed cultural corrective, and it is consistent with much that one finds in both Old and New Testaments. Man becomes aware of himself and his life because he knows about his death.8 The hope of resurrection is a hope against death, for death is the "last enemy" of God and man.9 These two statements make basic claims about humanity in general and the Christian religion in particular. Yet how much modern religious thought, generated within or without the church, has dealt with them directly? Moltmann's understanding of the resurrection never operates as a denial or an evasion of death. In his interpretation of the passion narratives, death is seen as irrevocable ending and loss. "The death of Jesus is . . . not beautiful."10 The period in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion is characterized by misunderstanding. Even Jesus' disciples cannot cope with his destiny. While one betrays, others fall asleep. Fear and uncertainty mark Jesus' own anticipation of death in Gethsemane. Separated from all his friends, he is tried and
7 Jrgen Moltmann, Religion, Revolution, and the Future (Scribner's, 1969), p. 12. Hereafter cited as RRF. Jrgen Moltmann, The Gospel of Liberation (Word Books, 1973), p. 129. Hereafter cited as GL. 9 Ibid.,p. 133. 10 Ibid., p. 132.

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mocked, questioned and harassed. Finally he is abandoned by the very One he proclaimed. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34). Jesus gives a loud cry and breathes his last. "The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father."11 When we have run out of evasions, then death must be acknowledged, and we too must face it as irrevocable ending and loss. Perhaps this is our most fundamental identification with Jesus of Nazareth. He becomes real to us in those moments of anger and aloneness when we, too, cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When we, too, are misunderstood by our closest friends, when we, too, are alienated by civic and religious institutions anxious only to preserve their power, when we, too, finally realize we are on the road to deaththen Jesus is our brother. Beginning with our identification with Jesus in his God-forsaken death, Moltmann unfolds his notion of the cross. The relation formed with God in the cross depends on no conditions of wealth, prestige, or skill. One does not even need to belong to a particular religious community. The universality of this relation is grounded in our common awareness of death in all its forms of ending and loss: death as separation from our children in divorce, death as hunger and disease, death as isolation in hospitals and homes for the elderly, death as alienating exploitation through color and sex. Through the crucified Jesus, God is related to the God-less and the God-abandoned. In Jesus, God dies the death of God-forsakenness. Moltmann finds significance in the heathen centurion's legendary confession. This God-less observer follows Jesus' death cry with the words "Truly this man was the Son of God." (Mk. 15:39).12 Where is God now? He is there on the crossand at Auschwitz, and Memphis, and My Lai, and at all the unnamed places where death reigns through oppression, ignorance, and apathy. Moltmann is aware of the complexity in our shared God-forsakenness. He recognizes that while the death of a friend or loved one confronts us with our own death, the two experiences are distinct. "Death . . . is not first known if man himself dies, but where the beloved dies, for we do not experience death in ourselves but in those we love."13 This is what it means to say someone suffers the death of another. When we find ourselves in such a situation, there is a duality in our sense of God-forsakenness. When we face the death of a friend and shake our angry fist at God, when we witness injustice and writhe in our frustration at God's absence, we may discover the very object of our anger and frustration present in the situation itself, sharing our anger and frustration. This profound duality is included in
11 Jrgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Harper, 1974), p. 276. Hereafter 12 Jrgen Moltmann, "The Crucified God," Theology Today (April, 1974), l3

cited as CG. p. 15.

GL,p. 134.

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Moltmann's articulation of the Father's sacrifice of the Son. "The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son."14 To say that God suffers Jesus' death is to say that God is affected by that separation and loss as we are affected by the separation and loss of our own sons and daughters. God is on that lonely hill, Golgotha, sharing the agony of Jesus' few remaining friends. God is there as abandoned Son, and also as sacrificing Father. There are, then, at least two elements in our identification with the crucifixion. The Son dies abandoned; we all know something of his forsakenness in our own loneliness and alienation. The Father suffers the Son's abandonment; we all know something of his grief in our own separation and loss. From our perspective this duality leads us to say God is with us in our God-abandonedness. From a theological perspective it leads us to say God suffers his own self-abandonment. In order to avoid such paradoxical assertions and yet remain true to our experience of the cross, Moltmann adopts trinitarian language: If the cross of Jesus is understood as a divine event, i.e. as an event between Jesus and his God and Father, it is necessary to speak in trinitarian terms of the Son and the Father and the Spirit. In that case the doctrine of the Trinity is no longer an exorbitant and impractical speculation about God, but is nothing other than a shorter version of the passion narrative of Christ in its significance for the eschatological freedom of the faith and the life of oppressed nature . .. The form of the crucified Christ is the Trinity.15 Does the resurrection erase all this? No, it underlines the inescapable and irrevocable nature of death. In the resurrection the disciples discover that the abandoned one on the cross really is the Son of God. Surely there is great joy at the promise of death's ultimate defeat, but where is God until that ultimate defeat? He is in the event of the cross. "There is no loneliness and no rejection which he has not taken to himself and assumed in the cross of Jesus."16 The raising of the crucified one anticipates the transformation of the world through the presence of God in the cross. This statement completes Moltmann's concept of "the crucified God." It is the event of Golgotha, "the event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father," from which derives the Spirit, "who opens up the future and creates life."17 Moltmann speaks of the event at the cross as an event within God; he speaks of the doctrine of the trinity as a summary of the passion story. Such language has force and escapes being simply speculation because Moltmann grounds it in an honest acknowledgment of death. Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit. That never means that Auschwitz and other grisly places can be justified, for it is the cross that is the beginning of
CG, p. 243. Ibid., p. 246. "Ibid., p. 277. 17 Ibid., p. 147.
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the trinitarian history of God. As Paul says in I Cor. 15, only with the resurrection of the dead, the murdered and the gassed, only with the healing of those in despair who bear lifelong wounds, only with the abolition of all rule and authority, only with the annihilation of death will the Son hand over the kingdom to the Father.18 Moltmann shares the Old Testament understanding of death as that which "cuts man off from God by separating him from his promises and his praise."19 Viewed in this light, Jesus' death is the deepest abyss of abandonment and exclusion from the promise. His resurrection is the greatest conquest of that abandonment and the dawning fulfillment of the promise. By sharing this new life in hope, the believer chafes all the more under the conditions of the present. "Where freedom has come near, the chains begin to hurt. Where life is close, death becomes deadly."20 The ethical implications are clear. As resurrection hope liberates believers from death, placing their confidence in God's final victory over death, so the cross enlists their lives in a constant battle against death in all its forms. Moltmann's theology continually articulates these two elements in the Christian message: liberation from death, and enlistment on the side of the abandoned and forsaken.

IV
The element of contradiction in Moltmann's thought is most obvious in the juxtaposition of resurrection and death. But it is present in other ways as well, and we will examine three of its expressions. (1) The religion of promise and "epiphany religion," In the "epiphany religion" characteristic of the Canaanites, the deity is understood to be disclosed in particular geographical and temporal locations that become sanctified bastions against the forces of disruption. One seeks to recognize the eternally present deity and participate in its original order. The threat to human existence from the forces of chaos and of annihilation is overcome through the epiphany of the eternal present. Man's being comes into congruence with eternal being, understands itself in correspondence and participation as protected by the presence of the eternal.21 The religion of Israel, by contrast, proclaims a God of promise. The divine order is yet to be realized, and the task of the believer is to cooperate in the creation of the new rather than the preservation or renewal of the old. The life of Israel is a life of exodus, moving out from the point of revelation, rather than a life of residence, staying close to the point of revelation. This forward-looking or eschatological orientation enables Israel to move beyond geographical and temporal barriers and finally results in a universalization of the
*Ibid., p. 278. Italics added. 7W, p. 209. RRF, p. 61. 21 77/,p.99.
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promise, as all nations are brought under the power of the coming deity. Finally the God of promise raises Jesus, a Jew, from the dead.22 But this is not the epiphany of the previously established. It is the anticipation of the promised future. Moltmann contends that "epiphany religion" formed the basis of the Greek philosophy of religion. Christianity, under the influence of Greek thought forms, has often been transformed into a "mythical faith of remembering" in which the end is like the beginning.23 It is a short step from the view that salvation is a return to paradise to a religion entrusted with preserving the past and ordering the present. And if revelation is the repetitive disclosure of the eternally present, then one can argue from the nature of existence to God, as well as from God to the nature of existence. Moltmann points out that arguments for the existence of God and schemes of verification for the content of divine revelation presuppose that "truth is experienced in correspondence, conformity, and agreement."24 But the resurrection contradicts experience. It fails to correspond to our repeated confrontation with death. It refuses to conform to established standards of scientific experimentation. It disagrees with our attitudes about the prescribed limits of truth. "If the event of revelation is found in the resurrection of the crucified one, then truth must also be understood eschatologically and dialectically."25 Things as they stand "do not yet contain their truth in themselves."26 The obvious contradiction between Christian revelation and experienced reality can be an argument against the latter as well as the former. The proofs of God from the world, from human existence, or from God himself are pieces of "anticipated eschaton"27 The questionableness of reality necessitates the questionableness of God, the theodicy question. But the pursuit of this question can only anticipate a God that is yet to come, not demonstrate a God that is here and now. The universal and immediate presence of deity is not the source of Christian faith but its end, not its ground but its goal. Arguments for the existence of God and schemes of verification are fragmentary sketches of the universal horizon of Christian mission. In this sense, natural theology is a theology of the future, a visionary theology that seeks to transform rather than interpret reality.28 (2) Resurrection faith and historical method. The resurrection contradicts our modern view of historical possibility. Such a radically new event cannot be contained within the schemes of analogy and
22

Ibid., p. 141. RRF, p. 22. 24 HP, p. 15. 2b Ibid. 26 TH, p. 223. 21 Ibid.,p.2U. 28 Ibid., p. 282.
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similarity that ground contemporary historical research. Even a historical method that could handle the contingent or the accidentally new could not handle the resurrection: Only if the whole historical picture, contingency and continuity and all, could be shown to be in itself not necessary but contingent, should we come within sight of that which can be called the eschatologically new fact of the resurrection of Christ.29 The only kind of verification appropriate to this event is eschatological verification, comprehension from the end of history rather than from within history.30 Historical research serves a positive function for theology by keeping the contradictory character of the resurrection in focus. Historical criticism forces believers to recognize that their understanding of the present as well as the past is disrupted by an event that looks to the promised future for its verification. The miraculous character of the resurrection, the very thing that stymies modern historiography, is the eschatologically new, the source of hope in this event. In refusing to be domesticated, the resurrection thus remains an open question. At the same time, historical research, with its continual criticism of fantasies and illusions, keeps resurrection faith honest. Historical criticism is a kind of "negative theology," the "iconoclasm of hope turned backwards."31 Theology is tempted to avoid the contradiction between the resurrection and modern historical method. On the one hand, it can subjectivize the resurrection and understand it as part of the kerygmatic event that repeatedly transforms human self-understanding. In this view, the miracle is no longer the raising of Jesus from the dead but the faith of the modern believer; the startlingly new is transformed into something that has been repeated again and again in the last two thousand years. But if this is so, must we not ask why the same principle that justifies giving up the resurrected body to historicism does not also justify giving up the resurrected soul to psychologism? On the other hand, theology can engage in an ecclesiastical or doctrinal interpretation that preserves the Easter appearances for those who remain within the church, offering a special salvation history that runs parallel to secular history. Here the price of avoiding contradiction is the maintenance of a historical dualism that will be continually threatened unless the church maintains a ghetto-like existence. Theology must accept the contradiction between the resurrection and modern historical method and let it become the starting point for an understanding of the present and the past that is oriented to the promised future. The raising of Jesus from the dead is at once a prfiguration and a provocation. Before its eschatological horizon,
"Ibid., p. 179. 30 RRF, p. 51. *lIbid., p. 53.

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historians must take what they hope for as seriously as what they already know. And Christian believers must recognize that the resurrection, like any other occurrence sui generis, will be known to others only through the difference it makes in human affairs.32 The fundamental challenge of the resurrection is directed at our practice of history rather than our theory of history. (3) Missionary unrest and presumption or dispair. The contradiction between cross and resurrection stimulates a missionary unrest. Arising from the disparity between the promised future and the experienced present, it awakens historical consciousness. If reality is truly engaged in history, it has not become a rounded whole. The question is not how the present reveals the end of history, but how the end of history is in the present. Just as the resurrection contradicts the canons of historical verification, so the promised future contradicts the possibilities of the present as seen from the perspective of the past. Moltmann urges the Christian to quit backing through history, numb to its real possibilities for change. "Awareness of history is awareness of mission, and the knowledge of history is a transformatory knowledge."33 The contradiction between cross and resurrection sustains a critique of both presumption and despair, progress and resignation. The resurrection denies the identification of the coming kingdom with our Utopian dreams. Long life, government by the people, pleasant working conditionsthese are not the ingredients of the new creation that comes to view in the resurrection.
What is the abundance of life? The death of death. What is complete freedom? The elimination of every rule, every authority and power. What is God? The elimination of nothingness itself, which threatens and cajoles everything that exists and insults everything that wants to live but must die.34

Resurrection hope always outstrips the successes of social action. It sees the victories of the migrant laborer, the legal aid unit, and the affirmative action program as provisional, and it pushes on. So too, it overcomes discouragement at the defeats such enterprises suffer. Resurrection hope understands that "it is not human activity that makes the future."35 Grounded in a promise that transcends every present, resurrection hope will not be satisfied until God is all in all. In the meantime it is a limitless resource for the inventive imagination, provoking new acts of transformation. Just as the resurrection denies the "realistic" utopias of the status quo, the cross denies the "idealistic" fantasies of pie in the sky by and
Jrgen Moltmann, "Towards the Next Step in the Dialogue," in The Future of Hope, ed. Frederick Herzog (Herder and Herder, 1970), pp. 152-53. 33 7W, p. 89. "RRF, p. 34. TH, p. 216.
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by. With the Apostle Paul, Moltmann sees baptism as participation in the crucifixion and death of the risen one. It signifies the believer's entrance into a movement of contradiction, the contradiction between life and death, between the coming lordship of Christ and the present world of brokenness and alienation. Followers of Christ empty themselves into the world. They come to themselves, find life, and attain to freedom through abandonment, death, and servitude. Why must this be so? Because the world in which they live stands in contradiction to the new creation in which they hope. As resurrection faith and hope transcend and transform the world, so resurrection love embraces the world. The believer cannot identify with the promise of resurrection without participating in the cross of the present. The expectation of life that comes with Jesus' Easter appearances, and the recognition of death that comes with his crucifixion are joined in love. "It is only in the things a man loves that he can be hurt, and it is only in love that man suffers and recognizes the deadliness of death."36 Love does not shy away from the pain of suffering and death. It turns to the abandoned, the renounced, the forsaken, and brings them under the promise of the coming God. It accepts solidarity with a yet-to-be-redeemed creation. How does one get from a theology of contradiction to standards of conduct? The real connection between Christian faith and ethics is the divine contradiction of death. Death is the ally of oppression: if this life is all there is, the weak must seek protection from the strong, the poor must beg survival from the wealthy. The ethics of death is defensive ethics, and the price of protection is bondage.37 Resurrection faith, on the other hand, releases the believer to an ethics of life. "Freedom begins when men suddenly find themselves to be without fear."38 The believer, acting in response to the God who contradicts death, struggles to bring the present world into conformity with the vision of the world to come. But the believer does so as one who prepares for the promised arrival of a friend, knowing that these preliminary works will be taken up and transformed in the excitement of their meeting. Resurrection faith, hope, and love are founded on contradiction and they issue in contradiction. "Peace with God means conflict with the world" If one's hope is in the resurrection, one cannot reconcile oneself to the constraints of the world and the final constraint of death. God's raising of Jesus from the dead is not merely a consolation; it is the divine protest against a world that accomodates itself to death.
Ibid., p. 208. Moltmann refers to the economic, social, and political patterns from which we seek liberation as "vicious circles of death." CG, pp. 329-32. 38 Jrgen Moltmann, Theology of Play (Harper, 1972), p. 14. 39 TH, p. 21. Italics added.
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