The subject of communication in marriage is a difficult one, perhaps impossible. It involves work, pain, sensitivity, patience, and great care. Communicating is often a burdensome task, but it is a task that must be accomplished for a marriage to be complete. When communication falters, the marriage is in trouble. When it fails, the marriage is virtually doomed.
Communication is, above all, a means of knowing. In marriage it means, simply, the knowing of two people. The goal of communication is knowledge—not abstract, theoretical, impersonal knowledge but personal knowledge, the knowledge of intimacy. In biblical categories, the essence of marriage is expressed in the intimacy of knowing and loving.
When the Old Testament writers describe the sex act, the usual term used is a form of the verb “to know.” We read that Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived. Abraham knew his wife, etc. What is the writer trying to convey? The Bible is not trying to suggest that reproduction takes place by the ability to recognize or distinguish one person from another. When we read that Adam “knew” his wife, it means more than that they had been formally introduced. Nor is the biblical writer just being polite when he uses the term. It would be out of character for an Old Testament writer to avoid candor in favor of euphemism. No, when the Old Testament speaks of sexual union in terms of knowing, it is because knowing, in every sense of the word, is at the heart of marriage. To be known and still be loved is one of the supreme goals of marriage.
Many of us think that if people really knew us they would not like us. Others think that if people knew us well enough to understand us, perhaps they would like us. Most of us probably feel a little of both. We would like to be really known—but there remains the nagging fear that if we are known, we won’t be loved.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed their life in Eden, “naked and unashamed.” After the fall they became aware of their nakedness and hid themselves in shame. In their guilt they didn’t want God to see them, so they became fugitives from his gaze. Yet, in an act of astonishing grace, God provided clothes for His embarrassed creatures and covered their nakedness. But the desire for the original state of being naked and unashamed remained with Adam and Eve. They wanted their nakedness and their shame hidden, yet they yearned for a safe place to be naked. They yearned for a place where they could take off their clothes and be known without fear. God provided that place in the institution of marriage. God gave them a place where they could have “intercourse,” which, of course, is also a synonym for verbal communication.
Communication involves a kind of nakedness. In some situations, nakedness can be very embarrassing. At other times, it can be supremely exhilarating. So it is with communication. When communication is carried on in a proper way in marriage, it yields unspeakable pleasure. When if fails, the result is two people going back into hiding.
To be known by God is the highest goal of human existence. To know that God knows everything about me and yet loves me is indeed my ultimate consolation. What a comfort to know I cannot pull the wool over God’s eyes—there’s no point in ever trying. The human institution of marriage should mirror that consolation. The more we are able to reveal ourselves to our life partners and still be loved, the more we are able to understand what a relationship with God is all about. The greatest consolation I have in this world is the knowledge that my wife knows me better than any person on this planet, and—guess what?—she loves me.