One of the joys of researching the life of a famed theologian is that, after spending much time interacting with their work, you begin to notice characteristics of their personality. Those close associates and students who have written about the life and work of Karl Barth have indicated that one of the greatest characteristics of Barth was his self-deprecating humility. This personality trait often led to Barth expressing himself through humor. However, we should not see humor as purposeless. Barth’s humor was used to convey deep theological truths, even while providing a chuckle for his readers. For example, Barth, writing of his own legacy, delineates:
The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, “Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!” — and they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the Angels laugh. (Karl Barth, How I Changed My Mind, 14).
We may not (and should not) fully embrace Karl Barth’s theology. But may we learn to have a little self-deprecating humor as we seek to speak of the One who is higher than us.