Thank you for asking this great question. It is a perplexing situation, isn’t it? I will try my best to provide some thoughts that might help resolve the tensions that you have raised. I look forward to the discussion!
To try and restate your question, we see, starting with the first few chapters of Genesis, that God is providing a perfect environmental, social, emotional, and spiritual habitat for Adam and Eve. So why would God place them in the Garden if he knew they would turn away from him in disobedience? If he could have predicted their Fall, surely he would have chosen a different and better plan? Similarly, if God sees that our circumstances are about to lead us into sin, wouldn’t he intervene to keep us from wrongdoing? Or if he knows that his actions are going to prove ineffective, why does he still try?
Speculation or Scripture?
One of the challenges of approaching this question is how easy I find it to start speculating on what God would or would not do. So, in my answer, I will hope to carefully ground each point in the Scriptures. The best way to get to know someone is to talk with them - and they reveal knowledge about themselves and their goals to us. In a somewhat similar way, the best way to get to know God is to listen to what he has revealed to us in the Bible.
God Knows Everything
As we consider whether or not God knew that Adam would fall, we need to search the Bible to see the limits of God’s knowledge. Here are two verses I find helpful:
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
1 John 3:19-20
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
In these verses, we are intended to be comforted that God knows everything. From the very beginning, from ancient times, God sees the end and he has a plan to accomplish his purposes. God is greater than our hearts and he has a redemptive plan for us - and for all of creation.
This means that God did know that Adam and Eve would sin. He knows when we are about to sin. He knows if his work to convict us of sin will be effective - or not. He knows everything that will happen, everything that is happening, and everything that has happened.
So How Can Adam’s Sin Be Part of God’s Plan?
This is a huge question. How can it be that the sin of Adam is part of God’s good plan?? Because sin is to be opposed to God’s plan!
To work this out, I think we need to distinguish, in one way or another, between what God wants done and what God allows to happen. Does God want humans to sin? No, he wants us to be holy! Does God allow humans to sin? Well, yes, we grieve this obvious reality.
The Great Glory of God
Second, the reason the Garden of Eden, even with Adam’s sin, is not a waste of time is because God has an eternal plan to glorify himself in spite of human rebellion.
Ask yourself: if God is ultimately perfect, and completely glorious, isn’t it appropriate that all events ultimately glorify God? As we learn in Isaiah 40:5,
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
And in Isaiah 42:8,
I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Here’s how James Anderson, a seminary professor, explains this idea:
If God’s primary purpose in creation and redemption is the display of his glory, what does that tell us about why he allowed the fall? Both logically and chronologically, the fall comes between creation and redemption. Without a creation there could be no fallen creation; without a fallen creation there could be no redeemed creation. Salvation presupposes sin; restoration presupposes a fall. Thus it’s reasonable to infer that God’s primary purpose in allowing the fall was to showcase his glory both in the original creation and also in his powerful and merciful restoration of that creation from its rebellion and corruption.
But was redemption really necessary for God to be glorified? Couldn’t an unfallen creation glorify God as much as a restored creation?
Reflecting on this question has prompted a number of Christian thinkers to develop what’s called the “O Felix Culpa” theodicy. (Literally “O blessed fault,” and “theodicy” is an explanation of how God can justly allow evil.) The basic idea is this: While the fall was a great evil, it made it possible for God to bring about even greater goods in its wake: the God-glorifying goods of the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and all the salvific blessings that flow from them.
As I meditate on the Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, I find myself in awe that our Triune God loves us so much that he would die for us. That he is so powerful that he would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven to rule as Lord of lords and King of kings! That he graciously includes us - his former enemies - in his plan to redeem the world!
Human sin is less significant than God’s glory. God is capable of being glorified even when we disobey him. He is too great for even our disobedience to thwart his ultimate plans and awesome glory.
So Why Does God Allow Us To Sin?
Whatever our theological system, we have to find a way to integrate the mystery that God does not want any of us to sin. To sin is to harm ourselves, to harm others, and to harm the world God made. Given his holiness and love, in some important way, God does not want this to happen. Yet, clearly we are allowed to sin. As we saw above, there is a distinction to be made between what God wants done and what God allows us to do.
To add to what I shared earlier, my own answer to this conundrum is to say that God is a God of love. He wills the best for others. And we are made in his image. So we are intended to will the best for others too - to love God and to love others. As I see it, love requires freedom. The ability to love God - or not - provides an incredible significance to our choices as God’s image bearers. For the sake of the very great good of making it possible for us to truly love God and others, God allows us the dignity of choosing whether to follow his plan - or not.
As a dad, this makes sense to me. I want my children to avoid what is wrong. But I also want them to freely choose to do what is right.
Because God loves us, he is wooing us to love him and love others. He speaks to us through the beauty of Creation, through Christian community, through the Bible, and by the Holy Spirit. But, as I see it, he does not coerce us to do what he commands.
I hope these brief thoughts are helpful to you. Please let me know what further questions you have?
And - I would like to ask, what Bible verses have you found that speak to these questions? It is good to go and study our Bibles to better understand God and his plan!