Endless Cycle of Revenge

Entire nations cannot easily do what we individuals can do in imitation of Christ


Faith Justice

I stood with 50 other engineers the morning of September 11, 2001, staring at a widescreen TV. In shocked disbelief, we gawked at another Boeing 767 passenger plane colliding into the second WTC tower, and finally, both towers cascading into a smoky heap.

I shook my head, thinking this will start another futile war. I recalled the Vietnam statistics: one in ten who served there was a casualty, and 75,000 veterans were severely disabled, the legless warriors and Post Traumatic Stress victims.

That night I had a dream of 30 uniformed soldiers from different nations. Each stood facing the back of another, forming a large circle. The facilitator instructed them to punch the back of the man in front, but only after being punched from behind. He then picked a man at random and ordered him to begin. Soon, each fellow in that circle was doing the same. Like a line of falling dominoes, that one replicated punch came back to the first man, continuing on for another rapid round. This went on for a while. Then he ordered a soldier at random not to punch after he was struck in his back. It took only that one man, suffering the last kidney punch, to stop the cycle.

I struggled to understand the dream. The sacrifice of one man had been enough to stop that cycling violence. In the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 21:24), revenge was a form of justice: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. In ancient Israel on the Day of Atonement, a scapegoat was ceremoniously adorned with all of Israel’s sins and then driven into the desert to appease God’s wrath. The scapegoat in my dream was the man who stopped the cycle.

I was pondering this the next day after President Bush declared his “Global War on Terror.” A total of 2,996 people had died, including the 19 Muslim terrorist hijackers, and upwards of 7,000 others were injured at the WTC Towers, at the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania crash site.

By October 2001, Americans invaded Afghanistan and Kabul fell to precision cruise missiles, followed by a blitz NATO invasion with armored infantry. The following year, Iraq kneeled to the only remaining superpower on earth.

But what had cost al-Qaeda less than half a million to pull off had resulted in a staggering $2 trillion dollars in damages to us, not counting ongoing veteran expenses. Sixteen years of futile, endless warfare nearly bankrupted America with huge military expenditures and bogus redevelopments. Furthermore, our invasions had caused over 3.1 million indirect deaths and 37 million displaced civilians.

Middle-Eastern Christians who once lived peaceably among Muslims were now treated like aliens and had to abandon their homes to flee to Europe. Those remaining were persecuted or killed, losing title to lands, homes, and possessions. Churches were burned down. The smoldering Shia-Sunni conflict forced Muslim emigrations to the EU in staggering numbers, with untold political and religious consequences. Realization of Islam’s cultural Trojan Horse invasion of Eurozone Christendom was now being achieved.

Bin Laden appears to have gambled that Americans would harshly retaliate over that crushing 9/11 humiliation, and thereby bankrupt itself. It’s interesting to speculate that he achieved most of what he and his privy council had planned all along. Like a chess master plotting moves way ahead, he seemed to know his opponent’s mindset and game plan. Despite his 2011 assassination by a six-man SEAL team, his global plan continues to materialize. In 2020, even amid the COVID lockdown, the number of Muslim migrants reaching British shores was hitting new daily records. Bin Laden’s posthumous checkmate may well be in those millions of migrants gaining dominance.

But I digress. The Church’s weakness and the sins of her members have enfeebled Christendom. As Cardinal John Henry Newman summarized in his sermon Christ Upon the Waters, October 27, 1850: “I fear the presence of sin in the midst of us… The drunkard, the blasphemer, the unjust dealer, the profligate…these will be our ruin… the open scandal, the secret sin… We can conquer any foe but these: corruption, hollowness… neglect of mercies, deadness of heart, worldliness—these will be too much for us.”

If genuine Christianity had reached critical mass in America, maybe the endless, senseless rounds of terrorism and retaliation would never have begun in 2001. As per my dream, maybe all it would have taken is one Christian nation becoming the world’s diplomatic scapegoat to end the ceaseless cycle of revenge. But practically speaking, that wasn’t likely. America’s collective ego, its pride, would not have stood by and let Osama bin Laden’s terrorists get away with wholesale murder. We have been pursuing them ever since, and the human appetite for the sweetness of revenge ensures the punching won’t stop any time soon.

What would have happened if America had decided to be the scapegoat, to stand down and not retaliate? Would bin Laden have been stumped by our refusal to play the game anymore? Would Muslim imams have turned against terrorists and demanded public flagellations? We’ll never know.

Peace on earth among nations is Christendom’s long-term goal. But I suspect in the here and now, only those few who dare imitate Christ by forgiving their enemies in this bitter, hostile world are likely to find peace of soul. Unfortunately, entire nations cannot easily do what we individuals can do in imitation of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth willingly became the spotless scapegoat, not only for Israel but for the world. He showed us how to take the punch.

To the world it seems utter foolishness to forgive our enemies, but He knew that is the only way to stop endless cycles of revenge. Even as He hung upon the cross, He mercifully gasped, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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