The remorse expressed in this penitential psalm is attributed to David after he had planned the murder of Uriah in order to posses his wife. Life compels men to acknowledge the existence of those inner self-contradictions which, apart from the grace of God, can be their ruin.
Because of these character flaws, it is man’s nature to be dissatisfied with his nature, but how to shape it nearer to his heart’s desire is beyond him. The Apostle Paul summed up man’s continuing plight in the well-worn phrase: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… what a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:19, 24).
The Christian diagnosis of human need is the truth also to which our children are introduced in their study of English literature, with the play The Tragedy of Macbeth, or The Tragedy of Hamlet, or The Tragedy of King Lear. That was how Shakespeare thought of these fated men—the essence of the tragedy in each instance that of a man of undoubted promise ruined by some flaw in his nature. Macbeth, for all his unquestioned physical courage, allowed ambition to become his master instead of his servant. Hamlet, of princely stock and of a thoughtful cast of mind, was the victim of his inner indecisiveness. And Lear’s genuine affection, affronted by seeming gracelessness, exploded into wrath.
Nor are modern instances lacking of this interior civil war—as when a Dylan Thomas could say that “I hold a beast, an angel and a madman in me, and my problem is their subjugation.”
What has the Christian faith to say to this? First of all, it recognizes that these are the facts of life. In the second place, it offers a remedy.
To Paul’s plea “Who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my own sinful nature?” there is but one answer: God alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Despair of ourselves is not a bad thing if it leads us to cast ourselves without reserve upon the saving power of God. The witness of the Christian gospel is that God waits to help the man who cannot help himself.
Frederick Coutts, Essentials of Christian Experience