Tribulation and Distress

Part 1 - An essay on human defenses


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The purpose of this two-part essay is to move you several yards closer to the goal of being better prepared to deal with life's sorrows and disappointments.

This is Part 1. Its main goal is to make an inventory of human defenses against the problems, stresses, and sorrows that life sometimes sends your way.

Part 2 is a compilation of God's counsel for finding help and healing in the "bad times" of your life.

Has trouble come knocking?

In John 16.33, Jesus warned us that we live in a world filled with "tribulation." Tribulation means trouble with a capital "T."

Have you ever been the victim of life's troubles?

  • Betrayal? Distress? Sorrow? Disappointment?
  • Injustice? Hatred? Loss of loved ones? Failure?
  • Futility? Prejudice? Anxiety? Depression?

Yes? Then this essay is for you.

  (Jesus said...) "...In the world you will have tribulation (hard times); but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.'' John 16.33b

Elijah and Paul

(While fleeing for his safety, Elijah said...) "It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!''
1 Kings 19.4b

(While unjustly imprisoned, Paul wrote... ) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4.4
  Elijah met trouble and wished to die. Paul met trouble and rejoiced. Weird Paul!

The difference between these two people was not that Elijah had worse troubles than Paul. No, the difference was that Paul dealt with his troubles more effectively than Elijah.

You cannot always stop tribulation from coming your way. You CAN stop it from ruining your life.

A fortress? Or a cage?

Tribulation HURTS!

When confronted with life's tribulations, your "normal" human reaction is to build defenses to numb the pain, and (hopefully) to protect you from being hurt even more.

  • In this essay, we shall use the word "walls" to refer to your defenses against sorrow and distress.
  • WALLS = your defenses against pain and tribulation.
  • The walls you build can be a fortress to protect you from further hurt.
  • On the other hand, these same walls can instead become a dungeon or a cage that restricts your freedom to obtain healing.

In other words, your emotional defenses may become more of a problem than the problem itself!

  My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, "Where is your God?''
Ps 42.3

A contemplation of the walls we build

I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly.
I go mourning all the day long.
My loins are full of inflammation.
There is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and severely broken.
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
Ps 38.6-8

This essay lists and evaluates several of the potentially UNHEALTHY and counterproductive defenses that people tend to raise up in times of tribulation.

This information will help you better to recognize when your walls (or those erected by someone you love) are becoming a dungeon rather than a fortress.

Dungeons of Denial

Emotional defenses of people in their Dungeons...

Cavalry to the rescue ==>

The person in this dungeon hopes to be rescued by Providence, or by other people, or by external events. Tends to fall into emotional paralysis. Lacks initiative while "awaiting rescue."

Head in the sand ==>

The person in this dungeon delays the need to face unpleasant facts or tasks. Often inattentive to anything that might lead to a painful truth. Wishes not to know.

Changing the subject ==>

The person in this dungeon diverts others from expressing their painful feelings. Avoids discussions of his or her own feelings.

Rose colored glasses ==>

The person in this dungeon misstates and distorts reality to avoid hurts. Intentionally misinterprets or misrepresents unpleasant facts. Misses the obvious red flags that warn of impending problems and dangers.

Tuning out ==>

The person in this dungeon is in deep trouble. At this stage of "wall building," that which is painful becomes increasingly inaccessible to the person's awareness. Reality is increasingly BLOCKED OUT.

Cages of Pretense

Emotional defenses of people in their Cages...

Rationalizing ==>

The person in this cage avoids responsibility for hurting or angering others by rationalizing that, under the circumstances, what he or she said HAD to be said. Someone had to do the right thing so the Rationalizer "made the sacrifice" and did it. This person often says, "Who cares what others think of me? I don't need them."

Role Playing ==>

The person in this cage asserts bravery rather than facing his or her weaknesses (e.g., starting arguments while secretly fearing confrontations). To maintain belief in the Role Player's infallibility, he or she pretends optimism and understates the seriousness of situations. Pretends all is going well despite obvious problems. Keeps up appearances.

Buck passing ==>

The person in this cage blames exterior forces, bad luck, and bad people for causing his or her failures and for bringing about weaknesses in those who the Buck Passer seeks to protect.

Racing the lame ==>

The person in this cage compares his or her weaknesses to others who are even weaker. Thus the Racer's weaknesses become "relative strengths." Puts others down in order to feel better about himself or herself. Seeks praise to make up for his or her own lagging self esteem.

Dream state ==>

The person in this cage feels like the situation is a bad dream -- a feeling of drifting, light-headedness, of not being himself or herself. May believe his or her grip on reality is growing weaker. May withdraw and become remote.


As we have seen, human defenses against emotional stress and pain can sometimes become more of a problem than the problem itself.

  • Bottled-up pain can eventually turn to anger.
  • Repressed anger can eventually develop into morbid depression or anxiety attacks.
  • Ultimately, severely repressed emotions have the potential to make us mentally ill, whereby we may become unable to fully comprehend or deal with reality.

In Part 2 of this essay on Tribulation and Distress, we seek God's answers to healing your sorrows and problems. And God DOES have answers.

Go to Navigation | Go to Part 2 of this essay