Yes, He Gets Us - But Are We Getting Him?
The “He Gets Us” campaign, launched most prominently during Sunday’s Super Bowl, is an attempt to reach people with an image of Jesus that is compassionate and relevant. It seeks to present Him as the ultimate empathizer, someone who understands rejection, fear, and social isolation.
Jesus does “get us.” The eternal God left the unimaginable glory of heaven to be born among cattle and hay. He experienced hunger and thirst and the betrayal of friends. He had “no place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20) and even His own family thought He had lost His mind. Because of these things, He is “not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).
We can rejoice in this. Knowing that our “advocate with the Father” (I John 2:1) underwent the trials and pains of being human means He is an understanding Savior. He does, indeed, “get us.”
Let me preface the following with this: I’m weary of crabbiness in the body of Christ. The “there’s always something wrong” approach to Christian work and ministry is debilitating. No gospel effort is flawless, and none of us who follow Jesus are ever free entirely from sin or misjudgment.
Also, stereotypes and misperceptions about Jesus abound. He is claimed by people across every spectrum, used to justify partisan allegiances, social movements, and personal preferences. Bringing clarity to a broken culture’s understanding of Who the Son of God is could not be more timely.
Yet the new campaign, financed generously by the family that owns Hobby Lobby stores, seems so desperate to make Jesus appealing that its ads portray Him as more of a contemporary cultural rebel than the person presented in the gospels. Is He an urban hipster or a friendless teenager? Was He a refugee in the same way as those thousands streaming daily — and illegally — across our border?
In “Outrage,” we learn that “Jesus never raised His voice” and that He believed He “could change the world by turning the other cheek.” Well, sometimes. Those He drove from His Father’s house had a rather different experience, as did those who heard Him eviscerate His day’s religious leaders. And in “What Would Jesus Think of Teen Moms?” we are told that “Jesus was born to a teenage girl ... a girl who was at the mercy of a man who could have publicly shamed her or even had her killed, but who instead protected and supported her. A girl who gave birth in a stable because she had nowhere else to go.”
No: Mary was a virgin — a teenager, yes, but not one whose pregnancy derived from an illicit act. And she was not “at the mercy” of Joseph — described in the Gospels as “a just man” — but under that protection of angels, who directed Joseph’s decisions. In its effort to foster interest, “He Gets Us” misrepresents the beauty of the incarnation.
I fear that in “He Gets Us,” the portrayal is so emphatic about His love and tenderness that Jesus becomes one-dimensional. Reducing His character to compassion is to ignore the great reality that God is both infinitely loving and immeasurably holy. Segregating these from one another is to diminish His grandeur and, ironically, the very qualities that make Him worthy of our lives and worship — the unique, eternal, and comprehensive integration of His utter purity and astounding love.
I fear that “He Gets Us” offers a false understanding of the God-Man Who is not just the Friend of sinners but also their Savior. Failing to deal with our fallenness, “He Gets Us” suggests a Jesus Who wants not so much to save us from eternal destruction but comfort us in our temporal distress. He wants to do the latter, yes, but how much more the former.
Additionally, there is a certain “bait and switch” element to “He Gets Us.” Many will find its messages appealing but when they confront the Redeemer Who “became sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21), they will have to address the hard truth of their separation from their Creator — the reality of their sin and their need to repent of it.
The producers of “He Gets Us” no doubt believe in the need for personal regeneration based on an acknowledgement of sin and trust solely in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The problem is that they overlay this core of Christian faith with a blanket of affirmation so soothing that those embraced by it might not ever wish to remove it.
Yes, Jesus understands. He empathizes. But all men everywhere need the soul-shaking disruption that comes from realizing God’s judgment on their sin is their fate — unless they come to know One Who gets our sin even as He gets our pain.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.