Why does Kurtz steal the Russian adventurer’s small bundle of ivory? Because he can. He’ll kill the Russian fellow. There is no law to stop him. Kurtz is his own law.
Power is heady stuff. You can feel powerful when you have limitless money, military power, personal strength, beauty, talent, or whatnot. You’re unstoppable.
Until your mortality catches you. For some, it’s cancer. For others, it’s addiction. But most of the time when people are brought to their knees, they try keep up pretenses, to project the image. To admit their weakness would be to relinquish power. For many, the illusion of power is what keeps them from seeking God.
Kurtz is broken by sickness — it was something out of his control. Only then does he come to terms with what power has made him. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is the renegade trader deep in Africa who goes native, becomes a chieftain, raids villages to steal ivory and accepts satanic worship to himself. He has heads on stakes outside his hut to inspire fear in “rebels.”
For someone who began with high ideals of bringing civilization to the Dark Continent, his devolution into savagery shows what can happen to any human heart that lacks restraint.
“The horror! The horror!” he utters on the boat going downstream, as he remembers that he is a European and that he he has become a savage. He never makes it back. Kurtz dies on the boat.
We like to feel power. To feel helpless is to feel despair.
All humans are basically helpless — despite our much vaunted human achievement — and we need God.