Betsy Painter: Caring for God's Wild and Wondrous Planet
Betsy Painter talks about her new book, "A Christian’s Guide to Planet Earth: Why it Matters and How to Care for it." She shares what inspired her to write the book, discusses eco-anxiety and offers practical things we can do as Christians to help recover and restore God’s beauty in the broken parts of creation.
Betsy Painter is a creative writer, conservation biologist and author of A Christian’s Guide to Planet Earth: Why it Matters and How to Care for it. She believes the Church has the reason, the hope, and the resources to make a difference on our planet.
What is one of your earliest memories in nature? What did you find particularly awe-inspiring and wonder-inducing about God’s creation?
One of my first memories is being wrist deep in dirt, sitting uphill from a creek lined with oaks and willows, scooping up dirt and molding it into a hill to make an ant and grasshopper duplex! My childlike faith, fresh as heaven, colored my vision with wonder. Everything I saw and touched was made by God, from the rocks I picked out to the grasshoppers I caught between my fingers. I felt a giddy delight in my responsibility to care for the critters in my yard as I built them homes.
I can especially recall how my senses were engaged when I played outside in creation. My fingertips felt the loam and grit of the dirt turning over in my hands. I smelled the earthy, aromatic mixture of microbial soil, plucked grass, and fresh air. I would’ve heard robins twittering and my dogs bustling. I was known to taste a clover or two. And my eyes took in the entire scene I was nestled in and a part of—the grass, insects, dandelions, oak trees, and sky. I wonder at this moment now. How God created our senses to “fire up” when we encounter his creation. This is also one of my earliest memories of feeling alive and aware of God, as Creator. We’re designed to participate in nature, and let the intricacies and grandeur of the planet draw us Godward.
….God created our senses to “fire up” when we encounter his creation…We’re designed to participate in nature, and let the intricacies and grandeur of the planet draw us Godward.
You recently published a book, A Christian’s Guide to Planet Earth: Why it Matters and How to Care for It, which is a beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written invitation for the church to care for creation. It connects scripture with science, inspiring awe for the wild and wondrous planet and creatures God has made, while also awakening us to our responsibility. What inspired you to write this book?
I believe that my family in the Faith has the reason, the hope, and the resources to make a difference and to seize the opportunity to reflect the gospel message of loving things to life—my intention with this book is to stir our hearts to love all of God’s creation. To ensure that we view nature with reverence and kindness. Together, I want us to reclaim our God-designed connection to the planet and our role in bringing it toward a state of flourishing for God’s glory and as a service to people, particularly vulnerable populations.
I also believe that God has been at work stirring up in the Church a concern for and awareness of environmental problems. Christians engaging with and caring for the planet has been a theme for centuries, but right now there is a particular urgency with the alarming levels of pollution, an erratic climate, and biodiversity on decline. Many friends have expressed concern, and that they don’t know what to do to help. My hope is that this book will contribute to the practical resources available that show us how to make changes and make a difference.
Photo provided by publisher
For those who might’ve grown up in Christian traditions that cautioned against “worshiping the creature more than the creator,” can you discuss the difference between appreciating and worshiping the natural world? And how appreciating nature can lead to deeper worship of God as creator? Your book does such a wonderful job of drawing the reader to worship God by empowering them with scientific knowledge.
First, I want to give a serious nod to the importance of this discernment. I think it’s right and appropriate to examine ourselves to discover who or what we worship. For me, it’s about the object of my desire and being intentional about connecting with God’s Spirit so that when I’m out in creation, it’s natural for its wonders to point me to God. I also think the greater risk in worshiping nature is in our over-consumption of its provisions and the temptation to greedily take from it, because we are trying to fill something in ourselves that we know only God can, to the depth we need. Appreciating and delighting in complex ecosystems and in the incredible ways the universe works actually supports an admiration for the power of God’s Spirit to work in hidden ways.
Christian creation theology upholds God’s transcendence and immanence. In other words, no matter how mysteriously close (immanent) his Spirit is with living beings and all of nature, he is ultimately separate (transcendent) from it in essence. God became part of the physical fabric of the universe, and “put on matter,” when he became incarnate in Jesus. This is different from the concept of pantheism, which is the belief that God is everything, and there is no distinction made between God and the universe.
When our appreciation for nature’s beauty is linked to our gratitude toward its provision through and connection to Christ, we can confidently enjoy creation, including the magnificent coral reefs and sublime mountains, and give God glory. And thank you! The intersection of science and faith is something I feel passionately about.
…I want us to reclaim our God-designed connection to the planet and our role in bringing it toward a state of flourishing for God’s glory…
There’s so much brokenness in creation. From pollution to climate change, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. Can you talk a little about eco-anxiety, and how we can avoid it?
Ecoanxiety isn’t a phantom worry; it’s a reaction to our growing awareness of environmental problems and our direct experiences living as part of God’s creation. I think people really want to know what to do to help enact positive change. In my book, I offer practical information, recommendations, and basic steps for taking action.
I also want to encourage Christians to sustain hope, not out of ignorance of the situation, but out of confidence that all creation is part of God’s redemptive purpose. I want to help Christians extend our notions of restoration and flourishing from humans to creation more broadly, for God’s glory. This is God’s world, and our Creator loves his creation. We can join in on God’s redemptive work that extends to the full community of creation.
In Psalm 46: 10 God tells us to “be still, and know that I am God.” This verse stirs us to consider who’s in control, who positioned Earth at just the right distance from the sun so the planet wouldn’t burn up or freeze over. The God of the heavens and the Milky Way, the God who made Earth perfect for you and me to live—do you trust him? In the commotion and confusion of life, we are invited to come before God in prayer and let him still our anxieties about ecological crises. We can look up at the sky to ponder our place on the earth, and ask God for direction on how to play our part in solving environmental problems.
The God of the heavens and the Milky Way, the God who made Earth perfect for you and me to live—do you trust him? In the commotion and confusion of life, we are invited to come before God in prayer and let him still our anxieties about ecological crises.
In your book, each chapter is accompanied by simple and practical ways we can make a difference on our planet, whether combating invasive species or saving endangered ones. Can you share with us some of these choices we can make in our everyday lives to help recover and restore God’s beauty in creation?
What’s really a big help is any effort to cut back on our consumption and our waste. Our clothes, computers, phones, cars, home appliances, energy for our heating and cooling systems, and our food are all sourced from the planet. Finding creative ways to simplify our living towards a gentler way of interacting with creation helps the environment and can bring peace to our lives. We can start by developing an attentiveness to what we use from the earth every day.
I think a lot about food waste. Did you know every year Americans throw out nearly 80 billion pounds of food? By making changes to our buying and eating habits, we can better steward and appreciate the gift of food. An easy way to make a difference here is to understand expiration labels. There’s a difference between “Best if used by,” which describes a state of food quality that may not be the highest in taste, while still being safe to consume, and “Use by,” which is for perishable foods that have a time limit for food safety.
You can also easily compost, which works wonders for soil health in your home garden, as mulch in your yard and for houseplants. You can freeze or repurpose food, like meat and bread, and I love freezing fruit and vegetables for making smoothies later. Learning how to make fruit jam and pickles is fun and good for the planet (there are so many tutorials online!).
You can find programs like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market that will sell produce with discoloring, bumps, or irregular shapes (which supermarkets often throw out even though it’s still edible). The food has character, and it’s just as tasty! I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to work together to find creative solutions for our planet like this. It’ll take energy and sacrifice, but it’s also fun and fills us with God-given purpose.
I believe that my family in the Faith has the reason, the hope, and the resources to make a difference and to seize the opportunity to reflect the gospel message of loving things to life…
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