Here we have the concluding segment of our three-part series on The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene’s novel on a Mexican priest bound in life to love and death.

[The lieutenant] wanted to destroy everything: to be alone without any memories at all…That, of course, was the best solution of all, to leave the living witness to the weakness of their faith…The lieutenant, lying on his hard bed, in the damp hot dark, felt no sympathy at all with the weakness of the flesh.

It is paradoxical that the power and the glory comes by means of sickness unto death. This is not what the Red Shirts believe, the persecutors who seek to rid the world of faith in God, who seek to make radical social change through a violent upheaval. They are guided by the worldview and methodology of change by coercion. Ironically, they are kin to the pious, those holy ones who stand proud in the hollow activities of habitual religion. Throughout The Power and Glory, Greene is delineating a cold line between right-handed and left-handed power.

Before going further, I want to explain what I mean by right-handed (straight-line) and left-handed power, and where they find themselves most perpetuated. Robert Farrar Capon defines them as such:

Direct, straight-line, intervening power does, of course, have many uses. With it, you can lift the spaghetti from the plate to your mouth, wipe the sauce off your slacks…Indeed, straight-line power (“use the force you need to get the result you want”) is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world…Unlike the power of the right hand, left-handed power is precisely paradoxical power: power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention. More than that, it is guaranteed to stop no determined evildoers whatsoever.

Straight-line power, the power of violence, is the power that the Red Shirts use to bring about social change. It seeks to will out their platform, to coerce its will into effect. Straight-line power, first embodied by the Red Shirt lieutenant, lays in the cold bed, refusing the weakness of the flesh; it is also the pious woman in the prison cell. They refuse their participation in the world because their coercion of it is under way. But, as Greene is describing through the weakness of the priest, who wakes up in the Lehr home of comfort and habitual piety, this power is counterfeit power; this is power that holds tightly to the rites and reins and violently bear it on. It is power in self, power under the constraints of an inward humanity, incurvatum en se. By doing so, they feel that they can eradicate the sins of the world, perfect the stains, or, as the lieutenant claims boldly, “We’ll give people food instead, teach them to read, give them books. We’ll see they don’t suffer.” They are earnest in their denial of the fact of death, and thus lay dead in front of us like the murdering criminal in the hut of the enemy, still reaching for the knife by his side, even when the knife is gone.

Left-handed power, on the other hand, that strange and paradoxical weakness of the flesh, is the “Christianity for cowards” that the priest accepts in the prison. A man of straight-line persuasion refutes the priest’s faith on account of the fact that “Christianity makes you cowards…Better not to believe, and be a brave man.” This is unreality to the priest, who finds his community in the fearful, who have also chosen not to partake in the “blood money” of the Red Shirt’s jefe. Their weakness is their faith. They have only the secret vagabond love of Jesus, which permeates the prisoner’s night of suffering and sickness. It is this truth of love-in-weakness that the priest serves to his soon-to-be killer, the lieutenant, that changes everything:

We have facts, too, we don’t try to alter—that the world’s unhappy whether you are rich or poor—unless you are a saint, and there aren’t many of those. It’s not worth bothering too much about a little pain here. There’s one belief we both of us have—that we’ll all be dead in a hundred years.’ He fumbled, trying to shuffle, and bent the cards: his hands were not steady.

This is the Gospel according to Graham Greene, the insurgent dominance of a paradoxical power; a power that sups in the death of the world, that it might in death, resurrect new life. It is a love that surrenders all. It is a love that accepts—even relishes in–one’s fearful and finicky finitudes and, in that finitude, calls upon the grace of God to bring forth a stronger and stranger glory.