Like Nik Wallenda on a tightrope, there is tension in relationships and where they will take us. Photo from Wikimedia

God is the bridge in all our relations

  • February 1, 2024

“Why can’t my spouse and I understand each other?” Even in the dearest of relationships, we might feel we can’t understand our husband, daughter, father or friend. 

“I thought I knew him, but now I wonder who I’m married (or related) to.”

An informal poll asked people who’d been married many years: “What do you know now about your spouse that you didn’t know at the beginning?” Several began their answers with: “I can’t say I really know her (or him).” Does that sound like an odd thing for people who’ve successfully spent years together to say?

What if it’s a wise remark? Of course they know their spouses well, as far as we can measure such things. Perhaps their marriages’ longevity is partly attributable to their awareness that they don’t know far more than they do know. Or even that there’s something about another person that one can never know. Human beings are fundamentally uncontainable, unfathomable and undefinable — even to themselves.

Believing you fully know and understand a person is the best way to stay out of relationship with her. If you have her summed up and pinned down, how can you ever reach her or be reached by her? No growth is required or allowed.  The mystery of this human person is disregarded. The result might be possession or control, but can it be relationship?

If we can’t fully know another person, what does it mean to be in relationship with someone?

To be in relationship, we must be Godlike. Fortunately, God designed us for relationship. Something in us urges us to reach past what we know — with all the danger and excitement that entails — to encounter someone else. We carry a hope that the infinite distance between people can be bridged without harming them or ourselves. Our hope is Christ, who is the bridge.

God offers us to come out of isolation into relationship. Are we really capable, though?

Christian theology has always held a paradox in how we relate with God — and therefore with each other. 

On the one hand, we can know God because God truly and completely gives Himself to us. We can affirm as true all we know of God, because He freely and fully reveals Himself to us. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Yet the other truth is, God in His essence can never be known to us; God is always beyond anything we can understand. If this weren’t true, God would be no bigger than we are, and we’d be stuck in the infinite loop of ourselves. We can end up living as if this were so, perhaps without realizing.

And often it’s the experience of loss, pain or suffering that breaks into this prison we don’t know we are in. It broke into St. John of the Cross in his prison. Thus he could say that God “is dark night to man in this life” (Ascent of Mount Carmel 1,2,1). This sense that we know God by not-knowing was not St. John’s innovation. The via negativa traces back through (among others) John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, Augustine of Hippo and St. Paul. 

It’s easy to fall into forgetting one or the other — that we know God in Christ, and so can affirm who God is; or that “if you think you comprehend God, it is not God you comprehend” (Augustine Sermon 52,16). It’s the tension in which we are all held. Like Nik Wallenda walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls, it can bring us where we long to go.

Some part of humans, too, is “unknowable,” since the human person participates in God. We can’t completely understand or grasp another’s inner essence. We must approach instead with awe and wonder, taking off our shoes on the holy ground of one another’s presence: not because we’re above God, but because we exist as image of God. There’s a part of us that can’t be pried open by anybody: not spouse, parent, spiritual director. Forcing someone open violates the other. But we can give ourselves, though remaining to some extent a mystery to ourselves.

Sometimes we reduce relationship to the quantifiable. We evaluate people’s “quality of life,” as though what is observable is the whole of reality; this does violence to the person, who is beyond measure. Quality of life may describe an aspect but doesn’t define someone’s life. Therefore it has a limited place in life decisions.

All human relationships stem from God — whether with spouse, religious community, parish, baby, friend, the vagrant on the street, the mentally disabled. None is definable. None can be possessed, even by knowledge. God, who alone could do so, does not possess, control or constrain us. In His tender care that holds us immortal, we can finally grow, finally love, finally become self-possessed enough to give ourselves away and come close to our own mystery.

(Marrocco can be reached at