Barbie has been an astronaut, flight attendant, and even president. But two Argentine artists have given the doll a new role: the Virgin Mary. They have also created a Ken doll as the crucified Christ along with other saints and figures from world religions. However, they chose not to create a Ken doll as the Prophet Muhammad. Catholic bishops in Italy are denouncing the depictions.
These are challenging days for Jews and Christians. The Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah was marked Wednesday by Israelis pessimistic about peace, with an economy struggling to recover from the latest war with Hamas. Global anti-Semitism continues to escalate: a rabbi in Jackson, Mississippi reports that he was recently thrown out of a local restaurant because he is Jewish.
Persecution of Christians is intensifying as well. In North Korea, a quarter of the nation’s Christians now live in forced labor camps. Earlier this year in Orissa, India, 500 Christians were hacked to death by Hindu radicals and 50,000 were made homeless. ISIS radicals are forcing parents to watch as they behead their children for being Christians. Egypt has seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries. The Pew Research Center documents discrimination against Christians in 139 countries, nearly three-fourths of the world’s nations. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that 100,000 Christians die every year for their faith—11 every hour.
Yet we can experience joy in the midst of pain, no matter the source or circumstances of our suffering. Today I was struck by Psalm 97:11: “Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” “Righteous” (saddiq in the Hebrew) denotes one who is godly and devout; “upright” (yisre) refers to those who are correct and just with others. When we are right with God and just with people, we will have God’s light and joy.
Is this because God likes the righteous and upright better than others? Not at all. Rather, being righteous and upright positions us to receive what our Father’s grace wants to give. Joy is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), the result of the Spirit’s work in our lives. It is a product, not an achievement.
Ezekiel 20:13 is a commentary on this fact: Israel “did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live.” The rules are available to everyone, but those who obey them experience the good they are intended to produce.
The same principle applies in other areas of life. Jonas Salk perfected a vaccine for polio, but it is effective only for those who are inoculated by it. I think the Mexican restaurant down the street from our office has the best fajitas in Dallas, but you’d have to eat there to verify my opinion.
Do you need more of the Spirit’s joy today? Then choose to be right with God and just with others. And your joyful heart will prove the reality of your faith to a skeptical culture. The world can take our freedom and even our families, but it cannot take our joy.