Sharply differing yet overlapping views of a world of danger and tension facing the United States were presented to the nation's newspaper editors in back-to-back appearances yesterday by President Carter and former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger.

Both men portrayed a global environment of almost unrelieved trouble in the years just ahead, with particular emphasis on wider-ranging and protracted conflict with the Soviet Union. But Carter and Kissinger, in separate presentations to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, gave differing assessments of the reasons for the trouble and the effectiveness of the current remedies.

Carter called it a "complex, changing and sometimes dangerous world." He declared: "It is a world of conflicting ideologies, of unequal wealth and of uneven resources. It is a world in which the capacity for destructive violence is at once alarmingly dispersed to every tiny terrorist band -- and awesomely concentrated in the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers."

The president portrayed the world as "uncertain, suspicious, shifting, searching for balance" -- a world of complexity and contradiction. Of the holding of American hostages in Tehran for more than five months, he said: "No other single event seems so clearly to mirror the disorder of our times and the competing pressures on a great and powerful nation."

Carter declared he will make "every legal use" of American power to bring the hostages home safely but spoke, as in the past, of the benefits of restraint.

The central challenge of the age, in Carter's view, arises from "the intersection of two historic trends" -- the growing demands of the Third World of have-not nations and the continuing threat of Soviet expansionism.

Carter devoted the bulk of his speech to the latest manifestation of the Soviet problem. He condemned "appalling inhumanity . . . brutal armed suppression" in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and described U.S. efforts to counter it through nonmilitary means.

Dark depiction of Soviet challenge at the present moment was the common motif in the Carter and Kissinger portraits. Both presented the Russians as implacable, expansionist and dangerous. But Carter the politician and decision-maker and Kissinger the historian and former diplomatic strategist painted the overall canvas in strikingly different ways.

In Kissinger's view "we are sliding toward a world out of control, with our relative military power declining, with our economic lifeline increasingly vulnerable to blackmail, with hostile radical forces growing in every continent and with the number of countries willing to stake their future on our friendship dwindling."

Although Kissinger spoke of interrelated issues in a complex world, in fact his richly worded portrait was simpler in concept. The motive force of trends and troubles throughout the world was Soviet power or radical forces allied with the Kremlin.

Kissinger portrayed patterns of "geo-political" reach by the Russians in a broad swath of the globe. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example, "overshadows the Persian Gulf like the northern arm of a great pincer," he said.

While conceding that Carter inherited a difficult situation in the "post-Vietnam" national climate, Kissinger charged that the administration "compounded the problem by systematically deprecating the role of power" in foreign policy and by stretching out or canceling military programs. Even in the post-Afghanistan climate, he declared, Carter has not increased military budgets enough to back up the major new U.S. commitment to defend the Persian Gulf, or to catch up with growing Soviet military power.

The U.S. failure, as seen by Kissinger, was essentially a lack of toughness in wielding an effective system of the carrot and stick. "Somewhere somehow, the United States must show that it is capable of rewarding a friend or penalizing an opponent. It must be made clear, after too long an interval, that our allies benefit from association with us and our enemies suffer," he said.

In the most biting section of his speech, Kissinger charged the Carter administration with "inconsistent pronouncements and unpredictable reactions" which may have confounded and possibly encouraged Soviet leaders. He charged Carter with flip-flops on SALT negotiations, the neutron bomb and theater nuclear weapons, policing for the Persian Gulf, and "linkage" between arms control and Soviet intervention. Even the current responses to Afghanistan, he charged, are "only reflex reactions -- they do not constitute a strategy."

Under questioning by editors, Carter rejected the charge that irresolution or inaction on his part contributed to the present troubles. He ridiculed this idea, depicting it as an irresponsible effort to shift blame from the Soviet leadership or the Tehran militants onto the United States.

Carter said nothing of his administration's sweeping policy reversals following the Afghanistan invasion. Nor did Kissinger own up to the flow and ebb of detente in the Nixon and Ford administrations which he served in high positions.

The editor's concentration on foreign policy continued last night with a banquet address by presidential assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski. The editors were not exposed to Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance because it had been decided he would be "dull," according to Michael Gartner, editor and president of the Des Moines Register and chairman of the program committee. Gartner said the committee wanted to hear those "who would be most interesting and have the most to say."