STRESS AND DISTRESS
T. PIERCE BROWN
As far as we know, the word “stress” is not used in any standard English translation of the Bible, although the idea is presented many times. But the word, “distress” is, in one form or another, at least 50 times, in addition to the other ways the same word is translated, such as “anguish,” “pain,” “affliction,” “sorrow,” “tribulation,” “trouble,” “adversity,” or “necessity.”
One needs to be very careful with words and their use, whether in the effort to discover their original or contextual meaning, or in the way we use them. Not only may a careless use of words do great damage to human relationships because of a failure to adequately communicate thoughts and meanings, it may do great damage to souls by perverting truth.
The word “distress” is not formed simply by adding a prefix “di” or “dis” to another word. Nor is distress itself formed simply by adding one stress to another. Distress is formed by having stress without developing the proper attitude toward it. As does the Apostle Paul with so many other things, he give us an insight into how we may have stress without distress, not only by his verbal teaching, but by examples from his life.
Notice 2 Corinthians 4:8-11, where he starts by saying, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.” Do you think you have stress? We do not even begin to have the stress Paul experienced. If you doubt it, go on to 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Then in addition to all that, he had a thorn in the flesh! Why he needed a “thorn” to keep him humble when he already had a whole stack of “briars” is a little hard to grasp!
Notice that he would say that he was “in distresses” (2 Corinthians12:10) as he referred to the objective external circumstances, yet not “distressed” (2 Corinthians 4:8) as he referred to his subjective response. This should help us to see that while no one may be able to escape the stresses of life in one degree of another, they need not distress him if he keeps the proper perspective. But what is the proper perspective?
First, “count it all joy” when you have these manifold stresses (James 1:2), for you know it develops needed virtues. Iron ore may be found loose in the earth, but valuable tempered steel must have heat and pressure. Second, consider it a “light affliction” (2 Corinthians4:17), and “but for a moment.” It is light compared either to the suffering of Christ, or “the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Romans8:18). And it is momentary compared to the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians4:17). Third, “in everything give thanks” (Philippians 4:6), for you can be assured that “all things work together for good to those that love the Lord” (Romans8:28).
We have discovered a wonderful truth regarding this. If you develop a perspective–a viewpoint–including the things mentioned here (and there are many other valuable aspects not mentioned), you will be able to go beyond Paul’s admonition, “in everything give thanks” toward “for everything give thanks.” Sinful acts are not included in that “everything” for which we may give thanks. But it is possible for one like Paul not only to give thanks in his suffering, but in many cases, to give thanks for many stresses and hurtful things as one sees that they produce strength and power in the one who has them, and glorify God, or help the person to glorify God.