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Disappointment with God: Philip Yancey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
May 15, 2023 5:15 am

Disappointment with God: Philip Yancey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 15, 2023 5:15 am

Why is God hidden? Silent? Unfair? Author Philip Yancey wrestles with all-too-real disappointment with God—and looks our questions in the eye.

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After Parkinson's Diagnosis, Philip Yancey Aims To Be Faithful, Grateful

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Order Phillip's new book, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud

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Hey there, David Robbins, President of Family Life. If you were moved and have been helped by the program over these past weeks and months, as a donor-supported ministry, we want you to know that it was made possible by generous listeners just like you. Our Family Life partners who partner with us monthly help provide all the resources we share here every day, and they are a vital part of our mission. Did you know that as a monthly Family Life partner, if you join with us, you'll not only get a gift card to attend one of our 80 Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, but you also get special invitations to live behind-the-scenes online events with some of our very gifted team of voices. Becoming a Family Life partner now in the month of May is even more impactful as some generous people have come alongside this vision and mission and set up a matching gift to double your commitment for a year. The Bible assumes that the world was created good and even perfect, but it's been spoiled, so it expects that things aren't going to work.

It expects that there are going to be times of doubt and disappointment, and the Bible includes a lot of that. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the Family Life app.

This is Family Life Today. All right. I just got to say, I was thinking about this just now. There's only probably two people in the world I'd want to get an autograph from.

Paul McCartney. Well, you didn't have to say that. Well, I know that one.

But you would have never thought the other one's sitting across the table from me. I'm not surprised at all. Phillip Yancey is back in the studio of Family Life.

Welcome back, Phillip. Thank you. My signatures don't come cheap. Yeah, okay.

How much can it cost you? I mean, it's funny I say that. I never want an autograph. I don't even understand why people do that. And working with Detroit Lions for those years, people come up to NFL players and you're like, really, what are you going to do with that? But then Ann's like, if you ran into Paul McCartney, yeah, I might want to do that.

But why Phillip? Well, it's really because your books, and specifically the one we're going to talk about today, Disappointment with God, I said earlier, have shaped my faith. And I'm so grateful. And so the way you think, the way you write, I wish I was as smart as you, but I think in similar ways.

Which is interesting, Dave. Because not only has it impacted you, but because it's impacted you, you then felt the freedom to share some of your doubts or the way you have wrestled with God in certain things to our congregation at church. How many people have come up to you to say, thank you, I'm so glad I'm not the only one that has had those thoughts?

Yeah, think about this. I'm sure, you know, as an author, maybe you don't think sometimes, who's reading and how's it impacting them? I am doing a funeral for a woman I've never met. Her son, he was probably 31, 32 years old. Long story short, strange relationship.

I just talked to her on the phone and she requested that I do this funeral. She now lives in Alabama, but what happened is her son walked away from the faith as a little boy, had mental issues and was always in trouble. And when he was about 27 years old, he reached back to his mom. They hadn't talked in five years and said, I want to reconnect with you.

I've got an idea. Could we watch a sermon every Sunday and talk about it? I need to find God again. And she said, my son said, I want to watch Dave Wilson every Sunday and I'll call you. And so she said we had three years of a great relationship because my son connected to you. You know why he connected to me? Because I was the preacher that said, I still have questions that are hard to answer and that's okay.

So let's journey together. And that's why he wanted to listen to me specifically. And I think that's because of your impact on my life. So in some ways, Phillip, you've influenced and she said to me on the phone the other day, my son's in heaven because of those three years. And that's partly because of you, Phillip.

So I know you don't know me and you don't know him, but think about the impact. You've sold over 17 million books, 25 written books. I just think Disappointment with God, three questions no one asks out loud. When I picked it up over 30 years ago, I'm like, I've asked these questions.

Nobody's ever said you could ask these questions. So if you can remember back, I know it's been decades. What prompted you to write a book like Disappointment with God? I tell the story in that book of a friend of mine that I call Richard. It's not his name. Oh, that wasn't his name. I thought it was.

Nope. His name is actually, he's okay with me mentioning it now. His name is Chuck Ulrich. And he had written a book called The Pain of God. It was published by InterVarsity. And right before it was published, in fact, too late to stop, he called InterVarsity Press and said, you've got to stop this book because I don't believe it anymore. And he actually went in his backyard and he tore up the pages of his own book and the Bible and burned them, you know, in a steel barrel. Didn't the police show up?

They did. Yeah. What are you doing burning the Bible? So he was my friend and I listened to him. And when he asked questions, they became my questions. And I like to say, Dave, that people think writers write books about something they know about. We actually write books about something we don't know about because it gives us a chance to dive into it. And I had been studying the Bible.

I did this edition of the Bible called The Student Bible, which was kind of a verse-by-verse exploration. And then right before I started this book, I went out to Breckenridge, Colorado. I was living in Chicago, so this was an exotic trip for me. Now I live in Colorado, partly because of that. I hope to go skiing and I hope to read all these books on the plot of the Bible. I had a whole suitcase full of them. As it turned out, I didn't go skiing at all because it snowed so much, I couldn't get out the driveway.

And I didn't know any snowplows in the area. And I only read one book. I read the Bible.

I read it all the way through. I started out by saying, my question was, why is it that God sometimes acts in a very powerful fashion? You know, the ten plagues of Egypt, the Red Sea, Noah's flood, you know, these kind of things.

The battles that the Israelites fought, Joshua, that kind of thing. And then sometimes there'll be these gaps, like the ten plagues of Egypt came right after several hundred years of no activity at all. And then the prophets all appeared and they said, we're speaking for God. God told me this. God predicted this. And then there was silence for another several hundred years before Jesus came. So why is it that God sometimes acts in a very dramatic, visible way? And then sometimes there are these times of silence. And so I just started at Genesis and started reading and read all the way through.

And there's something about that combination of having gone through the detail, the verse by verse part, and then stepping back and getting the 30,000 foot view, you know, the bird's eye view. And something clicked for me. And when I met with my friend, Richard slash Chuck, he had these kind of normal complaints. Things weren't working out for him. He was losing his hair. His girlfriend had broken up with him.

You know, just normal stuff. Life, these weren't tragedies. It wasn't stage four cancer. He just had to throw in, he's losing his hair. Talk about disappointment with God. He was in his 20s.

So was I, by the way. And the more we talked, he really gave me the outline for the book, those three questions you mentioned. He said, the more I think about it, the questions I have boil down to three. Why is God silent? Why is God hidden?

Why doesn't he just come clean? I mean, why isn't there a sign in the sky that says I exist? And why is God unfair? And so those were in the back of my mind when I read through the Bible. And one of the first things that came to my mind as I read the Old Testament is that those questions didn't really apply in the Old Testament. When the children of Israel were walking around in the desert, God wasn't hidden. There was a pillar of cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire by night.

There was a smoking, thundering Mount Sinai. God wasn't silent. God spoke audibly. People could hear God speak. And God wasn't unfair.

He held out a contract. You go back and read Deuteronomy, and Moses tells the people, if you follow the covenant, then you will win all of your wars. You'll never get sick. You'll never have a drought or a famine. All your women will be fertile. All your cattle will be fertile. This is great.

Everything works. Wouldn't you take that gamble? Oh, yeah. But did it work?

No. We don't look back on the time of wandering in the desert as a time of great faith. We look at it on a time of great failure.

So, it's funny. We think if God would just act this way, it would create the circumstances where he'd be easier to believe. Didn't work out that way at all. And I came to the conclusion what we think would solve our spiritual problems really did not. In the case of the Israelites. And this went on for several thousand years.

You know, it's a long experiment. And then I concluded God doesn't really have anything to prove. God doesn't need to show up.

That's not his ball game. God wants faith. God wants us to believe even when we have reasons not to believe. And God is a spirit. You know, we keep wanting God to interfere in our lives. And to act on our terms.

And I think we're asked to do the opposite. And I thought of the Bible as a three-act play. The first act is God the Father, where he's very powerful, undeniable, just a force to be reckoned with.

But hard to get close to. Back in the wanderings in the Sinai, the only person who could stand toe-to-toe with God was Moses. He would disappear inside a tent, the tent of meeting. And when he came out, he'd be shining so brightly, people would say, Moses, put a veil over your face.

We can't stand to look at you. It's hard to love a God like that. And I thought, you know, if you go up to, say, a 12-year-old girl in the Sinai desert and say, I'm studying religion here and you're Jews here, what is your God like? Oh, we don't even say that word. You know, we spell it G blank D, as Orthodox Jews do to this day. Well, what's he like? Well, you see that mountain over there?

It's thundering and there's lava pouring down. That's what God is like. There probably were no Jewish atheists in those days. If you doubt God's existence, go over and touch Mount Sinai. And for one nanosecond, you will believe right before you're incinerated.

That's what would happen. So then you go to a disciple in the New Testament. You say, what is God like? It's hard to believe, but see that guy over there? His name is Jesus. And I know he looks just like the rest of us, but he did things. He stopped the storm. He raised the dead. He healed people. He said, if you've seen me, you've seen the Father. That's what God's like. God's like Jesus.

And then if you ask today, what is God like? Well, Jesus only spent three years working here on earth, and then he left. And when he left, he said, it's up to you now, so I want you to take this message. And I'm leaving. I've done my job.

It's finished. And he floated up in the air like a balloon. The disciples are all standing there. And these angels appear and say, he said to get going, going to Judea and Samaria and the rest of the world. And God is like the church.

Whoa, that's a scary thought. But what happens is, you go from the scary, powerful, threatening God of the Old Testament, God the Father, to a much more vulnerable, personable God, Jesus, that you can shake hands with, you can argue with, you can crucify. To a spirit where God says, I'm going to humble myself so deeply that I'm going to live inside you. And I know you're going to fail me, and you're going to misrepresent me, and you're going to really mess up.

But I'm willing to take that gamble, because every once in a while you do it right. And when you do it right, it gives me such pleasure. You go back to the New Testament, and there are three times, maybe four, it depends, where God spoke in a way that everybody could hear, just like the Old Testament. And he said the same thing every time. He said, this is my beloved Son in whom I'm well pleased. And I think God is still saying that. Whenever we do something, God takes pleasure in it. When we hit the right note, when we get across the kind of love and acceptance that we are supposed to show the rest of the world, the comfort. So, I kind of got that as a three-act play. God, in one sense, being less like we think we want God to be.

We want God to interfere all the time, even though when he did, it didn't work. And then, more like less powerful looking, but much more intimate, where God lives inside us. And Paul says, the Spirit lives in you and knows the groans that you have as a human being that words can't even express. And the Spirit can. The Spirit represents those groans to the rest of the Godhead. So, that's kind of the plot that I got.

Snowbound for two weeks in Breckenridge. That's pretty deep. I mean, yeah, that's deep.

I mean, that was two weeks, just reading through it? Yeah, that's all I did, read the Bible. I mean, I went to seminary and got a master's and I don't think I got that simple understanding. And I remember, again, reading, and now rereading Disappointment with God, a simple thought.

And you just mentioned it, Phillip, was, I bet I've done this at least a dozen times in my life. Laying in bed, sitting in a chair, and saying to God, just show up. Walk in this room, give me a glimpse. Flicker a light, I don't know. Give me a sign.

Any kind of visible, I just, I believe, but I'm struggling right now. You can do this. Please do it. Doesn't. And then this simple thought, reading your book again, was, he did that for the Israelites. Like you said, he didn't play hide and seek.

And I'll read this last part. You said, God's visible presence did nothing to improve their lasting faith. And I thought, you're right. And it wouldn't do nothing for me either.

It would work probably for a week or a month or maybe a year at tops. Like, I had this moment with God. I saw him.

He walked in my bedroom. And then I'd struggle just like everybody else. So the question is, why? Why isn't that enough for us? Because God's invisible, you know, and we're visible people. And we just think reality is stuff that we can look at under a microscope.

That's a pretty modern concept though. For most of history, every tribe, every group of people in the world that anthropologists have ever studied have an idea of God, differing ideas of God. But they all understand that there's a large force worthy of worship. They all have an advanced religion, which is pretty amazing, actually.

Thousands of different groups of people. You're on family life. So let's talk about family life. I guess the question is, how do you get, if you're a parent, how do you get your kids to love you?

You can give them commands. You better love me. You listen to me.

You better love me. That works really well. But that's one option.

That's one option. I think God ultimately knows that the best way to express love is human to human. So he came, became one of us. I mean, imagine the God of the universe, a trillion galaxies out there at last count, becoming one of these little two-legged ornery human beings, just to show what God is like and what we should be like. And then he dies, and it looks like the end of the world, but it's the beginning of the world. And now it's up to us to show the world what God is like.

That's the charge. I think a lot of us, I did, especially new in my faith, I had a hard time connecting that God of the Old Testament, who feels like he's smiting people. And then Jesus, they feel very different. And I have found this now, as I'm getting older and I've read through the Bible more, I'm seeing the love and mercy of the God of the Old Testament, more than the God that is just the God of judgment and wrath.

It's there. You're so right, Anne. There's that amazing passage in Hosea, where first God orders Hosea to marry this woman who's not a very faithful wife, shall we say. And then she goes out and becomes a prostitute. She leaves the prophet Hosea, and then God says, go take her back in. And he does, and she does this again. And he's just about to give up on her, and God interferes and says, how can I give you up, O Israel, O Ephraim? How can I let you go?

It's a love story, but it's a love story between the God who created the universe and ordinary human beings, because God is infinite. When God expressed himself as spirit, which is the era we're living in now, Jesus left, but he left behind the spirit. He said, unless I go, the counselor won't come to you, but the counselor can come. God is infinite, and God can express that love and that comfort one on one with everybody in the world, because God is infinite. He can do that.

He's got that capacity. You know, it's interesting, when you say that, I know that is true, and yet you even say, in disappointment with God, often our questions of why is God unfair or silent or hidden is personal. It isn't just why is God unfair or silent or hidden.

Why has he been unfair or silent and hidden in my life? And so I know Scripture. I know Jesus. And yet there's still times you struggle to apply the God who took on human flesh and died for our sin and rose from the dead, who literally lives in us by his Spirit, to answer those questions. It's personal, because we still feel at times he's unfair, silent, and hidden. And even before we started our interview, I was talking to Phillip about my sister who passed away. I think even for our listeners, when you're in the midst of pain, we prayed and we prayed that God would heal her. We were praying through every test she was taking, and it felt like God wasn't even listening. It felt like he was so far away. And when you take a story, because we love and we're drawn to the story, and so when you take this faithful follower of Jesus with four children, she's in the prime of her life at 44, and she dies, it makes no sense.

It makes absolutely no sense. And so that's kind of what we're saying. Like, how do you grapple with that? Yeah, a couple things. I would say, I'm borrowing a phrase here from C.S.

Lewis. He said, when you look at the world, it's a good thing that's been spoiled. Wherever you look, you see the beauty, the wonder, the majesty.

I mean, I wrote several books with a doctor. And at any level, when you start examining the physical human body, you're just amazed, the wonder that a heart, for example, will pump two billion times during a lifetime, never go down for repair, self-lubricates. Engineers just marvel.

How can they do that? And yet there are seven billion humans walking around proving that it works. So the world is full of beauty. It's full of goodness. It's full of wonder.

I live in Colorado. There are these wild animals around. They all fit together. It works. But it's been spoiled. And I ask myself, why didn't the Bible answer that question more directly?

Like, C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Problem of Pain. Why didn't somebody in the Bible write a book about explaining why God doesn't do this or does do that? The Bible assumes that the world was created good and even perfect, but it's been spoiled. So it expects that things aren't going to work. It expects that there are going to be times of doubt and disappointment. And the Bible includes a lot of that.

And Job would be the most outstanding example. One thing I've learned as I study the Bible and as I study life, people I've interviewed over the years, it's become almost a mantra to me that pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. Pain redeemed. That's the pattern we get in the Bible. In the Old Testament, you've got this God who will often respond in a direct way.

We need help winning this battle. OK. And that happened in Jesus' day, too, when Jesus is doing miracles. But it doesn't happen so much now. The pattern, rather, is we live in a good world.

It's been spoiled. But in the midst of that good, spoiled world, we're called to be on the side of righteousness and the side of goodness and the side of comfort and on the side of healing. And then there's this evil stream that's trying to take the good things and turn them into bad things. Food is good, but people eat too much. Sex is good, but people abuse that. You can go through every good thing in the world and people find a way to damage it, to spoil it, to stain it.

Jesus' followers are supposed to be showing the world what is good and what is not good. That's our calling. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we don't do it well. But what I found among the people I've interviewed, I remember so clearly, one of the first articles I ever wrote as a young journalist was of this young woman about my age who hoped to be in the Olympics, she was riding horses, she was an equestrian.

And she had an accident, she had a diving accident and had a broken neck. When I interviewed her, you know, I'm a young man, I don't know how to act. Here's this woman telling me her story and she starts crying and then she stops and says, Philip, would you mind going into the bathroom and getting me a Kleenex and wipe my tears?

Oh, okay. So I go and do that and then she kind of falls apart. She says, I am so ashamed. I can't imagine going through life like this. I can't do anything on my own. I can't go to the bathroom on my own. I can't even, I can't walk. I can't move my arms. I can't even cry on my own.

How can I go through life like this? Well, the woman's name was Joni Erickson, became Joni Erickson Tada. And I was with her after 50 years of celebrating her ministry. And I heard her say the best day of my life was the day that I dove into Chesapeake Bay and broke my neck.

Because up until then, I was just chasing the American dream, hoping I had a family of kids and a van and some horses running around. And God gave me a calling to call the church back to care for the disabled. I mean, that's an extreme example, but it's a beautiful example because I had heard her say, I can't imagine how I can live like this. And she's had cancer. She's had COVID. She's had a lot of things in addition to being a quadriplegic.

And yet she can now look back and say, that was the best day of my life. And I think of the pattern we have in Jesus. Jesus could have gone around saying, hey, what's this?

I'm a miracle worker. But he didn't. He kind of hushed it up, but he would do it out of compassion. He didn't do that. In fact, he became a victim.

In fact, he was killed in a brutal, very unfair way. And yet we look back on that. We call it, we don't call it dark Friday, tragic Friday, sad Friday. We call it good Friday because somehow God took the worst thing that could possibly happen. The murder, unjust murder of God's own son and turned it into the best thing.

The salvation of the world and the resurrection a couple of days later. And that's the pattern we have. And that's the hope that we have that somehow, as C.S. Lewis said, when we enter heaven, our first words will be, oh, I get it. I understand. And I took that and kind of expanded it and said, my definition of faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

Yeah, it's on the back of your book. Oh, good. Okay. What's that mean? Well, what it means is when you're going through something hard, it doesn't make any sense.

It just, I mean, your sister, my father at age 23, dying of polio, you know, one thing after another like that, it just doesn't make any sense. But we are to trust God that somehow good can be wrested from this. That's all he wanted from Job. And he got that from Job. I mean, just barely. Job was on the edge. He was almost cursing God.

Not quite, almost. And angry with God and every emotion you could think of. But he didn't cash it in, even though of all people in history, he had the most reason to do so. And somehow Job believed, okay, it makes no sense to me, but the alternative is to just give up and I'm not going to do that. I'm going to trust that even though God seems totally silent now, I'll believe he's out there and hang on. And then God showed up. And I love the ending of the book of Job because he had all these, he had three friends around him who were theologians and they all had these theories explaining why bad things happen. And God said, I'm not even going to listen to those guys unless you pray on their behalf, Job. And Job was a rebel.

Job was the one shaking his fist at God. And that's okay. Sometimes we need to do that. And God allows it and even encourages it by giving us the words. But at the same time, we, like Job, will be in situations where nothing makes sense. It's a test of faith. We can either say, I believe that someday this will make sense, that I have a God who's trustworthy and loving even though it doesn't seem like it, and I'm just going to put my life at stake on that. Yeah, I mean, it's beautiful what you said. Pain removed is not as impressive as pain redeemed. Redeemed, yeah. And I think even our story, and I want to encourage a marriage that's in crisis right now, the hardest days of our marriage where we almost didn't make it and everybody in family life knows the story, I would have in that moment never thought, number one, God's going to show up.

Number two, he'll ever use it. Guess what? God showed up, did a miracle, and now we're sitting in this very studio with family life because of that miracle. We wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be asked to do what we're doing if that didn't become that pain and then end up becoming our purpose. And I want to encourage a couple that's going through it, hang on, cling to Jesus, cling to one another. God's going to actually not just redeem it. He's going to redeem your story to redeem others. He's going to use you to help others. Just fight for it.

It's worth it. There's a deep irony at work because we go through life trying to have a smooth sail. But when you ask anybody at the end of their life, at what time did you grow most as a person? Absolutely.

Especially at what time did you grow most spiritually? They'll all talk about a hard time. They'll talk about what you just said or an illness or something like that. And so we try to get rid of the very things that can be most useful to us. I would express it this way. We're so concerned with how things turn out. We want things to turn out well. God is primarily concerned with how we turn out. And that can be different.

The world can be falling apart, like in Johnny Erickson's case. In that case, she didn't get what she wanted. Everybody, Billy Graham, Kathryn Kuhlman, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Oral Roberts, they all prayed for her, anointed her with oil, prayed for a miracle, and it didn't happen.

And yet she can look back and say, I'm glad it didn't happen because God gave me a calling. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Philip Yancey on Family Life Today. This just makes me want to worship and worship through tears because I'm a person who is constantly asked questions of God, like, why are you being unfair? Why are you being quiet?

Where are you? Why do you appear hidden at this time in my life as a chronic pain sufferer? I've asked these questions, and Philip Yancey today has given us some insightful and a deeply personal look at those kinds of questions and so much more for many of us who are hurting. Philip has written a book called Disappointment with God, and wow, what a title. You could pick up a copy of that book at, or you could give us a call at 800-358-6329.

I know it'll be super helpful for you as you're wrestling with these kinds of questions and so many more questions that we ask of God. So May is such an exciting time around here at Family Life Today because all the gifts that are given are doubled. But the person who's most excited, I think, is my friend Rebecca Granville. Now, Rebecca, you've been with Family Life for several years. Tell me why you're excited about this month specifically.

Hey, Shelby. I'm super, super, super excited because we have not only a May match for our donors, but we have lots of new and exciting things coming to our partner program. All of our partners, whether they're originally a legacy partner or they're coming on now, will have new access to podcasts and pre-releases of information. Not only is it the best time right now, it is a commitment that you believe in the mission that we are doing here at Family Life, and that will give you access to all of our resources at the click of a button. With that, you are also going to get a free gift card to attend a weekend to remember.

You're going to get a username and password to log on to our new curated content library. You're going to receive invitations to have live events where you get to hang out with Shelby and myself and Dave and Anne. These things are all part of being on mission with Family Life and being committed to be a monthly partner. Yeah, Family Life partners really sustain our ministry through the ever-growing challenges that families face. Rebecca, thank you so much for being with us today and helping us see a little bit more of the vision of why we value our partners so much. Thank you, Shelby. So if you wanted to take advantage of becoming a partner here with us this month, you can go online to, or you could give us a call at 800-F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word TODAY. And feel free to drop us something in the mail, too, if you'd like.

Our address is Family Life, 100 Lakehart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. Now, tomorrow, we're going to hear again from Phillip Yancey, and Dave and Anne Wilson are going to be with him in the studio asking questions like, Can God help me make sense of the pain that I've gone through? When disappointment comes up from my unmet expectations, will God be there? Will He show up? Will He fix everything? Those are the kinds of questions we're going to wrestle through tomorrow on Family Life Today. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-15 06:40:12 / 2023-05-15 06:54:28 / 14

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