31 Mar 2019

To Ken

Submitted by John T Reagan

If you have ever read literature written by someone from Scotland you have likely run across a word we don't use much over here in America.  That word is "ken".  To define it in American English one would say it means (in its verb form) "to understand".  Unfortunately, that definition only gets to part of the meaning of "ken".  When we think of understanding something – say a scientific research problem or maybe just why a friend is behaving the way he is behaving – we think in terms of taking our accumulated knowledge (a whole lot of facts and observations) and analyzing until we arrive at an explanation.  There are two competing philosophies that drive our search for knowledge.  The modernist believes that if he has accumulated enough knowledge and compiled all the facts about a topic, his conclusions will be accurate.  The postmodernist, in contrast, says that there's just no way you can know that you have all the facts so getting at any truth in the matter isn't possible.  The modernist, even after reaching a conclusion, will keep pulling together more facts (that sometimes force him to change his conclusions) while the postmodernist will simply shrug his shoulders and choose to believe whatever reality makes him feel good at the time.

They both are right and they both are wrong.  It is a good and noble thing to keep seeking truth and to constantly dig for more knowledge.  In this the modernist shines.  Yet the postmodernist is correct in his assertion that there is no way we can ever, no matter how much knowledge we accumulate or how good are our analytical skills, arrive at an understanding that encompasses all truth.  It just can't be done.  Except that it can be done!  We can grab hold of truth!  This is where the word "ken" comes in.  In its noun form ken speaks not just to understanding and knowledge, but to ability.  I don't know if the Scots use that word as a noun very often, but perhaps an old chieftain might, in discussing a puzzling matter, say, "I dinna have the ken for that, laddie."  He is speaking not just to his analytical skills, but to his innate ability to wrap his brain around the problem.  There are always many problems and circumstances in life that we simply don't have the “ken” to deal with.  If I'm a modernist I will become frustrated because I know there is something still out there that I just can't grab hold of.  If I'm a postmodernist I will also be frustrated because the reality I have chosen will always prove to be inadequate.  The questions I have and the problems I have to deal with will still be slamming me in the face and knocking me over the head and no matter what I do, I won’t have the “ken” to deal with them.

So why did I say that we can grab hold of truth?  Well, think of it this way – what if truth himself knocked on your door and said, “Hi!  My name’s Ken.  I’m moving in and now you can get to know all of me, exactly the way I am.”  All you’d have to do is invite him in and truth would always be there for you to consult on any matter.  No more wondering.  No more making a wild guess and hoping you’re right because the consequences for being wrong will be life-destroying.  No more fear of being “taken in” by deceiving people because truth is always there for you.  Wouldn’t that be great?  It wouldn’t solve all your problems, but it would make life a lot easier.

That’s exactly the way it has happened.  The post-modernists would be right when they say we can’t possibly know all the truth, and, because of that, we need to accept that when someone sees the world differently than we do, that’s just the truth they see.  The modernists would be right when they claim to understand the truth because they have done so much research and gathered so much knowledge.  Except that Truth Himself has come to us.  Only God knows all of what is true and He has a habit of knocking on our door asking to move in.  Jesus, through His death and resurrection, took care of all the issues that stand between God and us, so it’s really a simple thing for us to say yes to Jesus and open the door for Truth to move in.  Becoming a Christian is really an easy thing to do and knowing Truth Himself makes life a lot easier.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.     Rev 3:20



Postcript:  My favorite Scottish author is George MacDonald.  He was a prolific nineteenth century writer who had a profound influence on some of the greatest writers of our day (like, for instance, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis).  I recommend any of his books.