Job 7 and Psalm 8 present a paradoxical contrast in the meaning of man before God: Why does God care for man. Job asks why God cares so deeply as to even be concerned with men’s sin:
17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.
This sort of question, in the minds of some, has led to a religious impulse which creates a god who simply forgives because this god is merciful — God may be concerned about extremely wicked men (typically this requires genocide or at least extreme viciousness), but God does not care about my “small” sins.
And while this sort of religion appears to be very comforting it comes it at a very high cost. First, it comes at the cost of God: God must give up justice to simply overlook sin without redress: Imagine a judge hearing the case of someone who without question committed a gross injustice against you. The criminal is guilty, you sense your need for justice and the judge simply shows “mercy” and less the bad-guy go. Your anger would rightly rise against this situation, because “mercy” comes at the cost of justice.
What sort of a god could sacrifice justice and still be a just God?
Second, as Job notes, to simply overlook sin without more, comes at the expense of humanity. Job asks, why concern yourself with my sin? I’m not that important.
And so you see, that a merely “merciful” god regards a degradation of God and of humanity. God must be unjust and we must be without value to pull off such a “forgiveness”. It is not surprising then that our civic religion of an avuncular god who simply forgives comes at the cost of human dignity.
Scripture however presents a perfectly holy God. It also places human beings as alone bearing the image of God. For humans to be of such worth requires that God have concern for our sin: because human beings are representing God (whether good or ill).
A high view of God and leads to a high view of the value of human beings — at the very same moment, producing the humility of wonder and love:
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:4-5 This resolution of the conflict takes place in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews specifically brings these strands together, God, man, sin as follows;
6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews 2:6-9. There in the place of Jesus, God greatness and justice gather up the sinfulness of humanity and restore human beings to a place of honor.
This is how Paul makes the same argument, from a slightly different vantage:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.