Continuing the previous discussion about how we have viewed, and should view, the relation between God and the world:
One view is that we are related to God as are the characters in a book to the Writer of the book. Edward Feser, a new Aristotelean-Thomist philosopher, encourages us to use this metaphor:
On the classical theist conception of God, God is not one causal factor in the universe among others, not even an especially grand and powerful causal factor. He is not a “first” cause in the sense of being followed in a temporal series by a second cause, a third cause, a fourth cause, etc. Rather, He is “first” or primary in the sense of being the fundamental cause, the necessary precondition of there being any causality within the universe at all, just as the author of a story is the “first cause” of what happens in the story, not in the sense of generating effects in the way the characters and processes described in the story do, but rather in the sense of being the necessary precondition of there being any characters or processes in the story at all.The same metaphor was developed at some length in the talk by physicist Stephen Barr at the 2012 Science and Faith Conference: "Can Science Inform Our Understanding of God?", the video for his talk being available on youtube. This metaphor of a Writer and his book characters has the virtue of emphasizing some of the great philosophical / ontological differences between us humans and God. God is (thereby) not just another person among us persons, or another object among the world's objects, but can be the necessary precondition for the existence of any of us persons or objects.
This Writer metaphor, however, has a serious defect, and one which I believe is fatal. This is that a writer can never love his characters in any manner which respects their freedom. And the characters can never love return love to God-as-writer in any way which gives delight to God. The ontological chasm between God and creation, having been made great, is now in fact too great to be bridged, even by love. Even God (who is love) cannot now make anyconjunction which should be of love.*
I wonder whether Thomas Aquinas has something to do with this separation. Was there something in his views which emphasizes separation rather than conjunction? I read more about Aquinas in an article by Elizabeth Johnson, for example:
One of the strengths of Aquinas's vision is the autonomy he grants to created existence through its participation in divine being. He is so convinced of the transcendent mystery of God (esse ipsum subsistens) and so clear about the sui generis way God continuously creates the world into being that he sees no threat to divinity in allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature. In fact, it is a measure of the creative power of God to raise up creatures who participate in divine being to such a degree that they are also creative and sustaining in their own right. A view to the contrary would diminish not only creatures but also their Creator: "to detract from the perfection of creatures is to detract from the perfection of divine power.'' (SCG 3.69.15) This is a genuinely noncompetitive view of God and the world. According to its dynamism, nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion. That is, God is not glorified by the diminishment of the creature but by the creature's flourishing in the fullness of its powers. The nature of created participation in divine being is such that it grants creatures their own integrity, without reserve.
This participatory relationship has strong implications for the question of agency. The power of creaturely forces and agents to act and cause change in the world is a created participation in the uncreated power of the One who is pure act. Conversely, God's generous goodness and wisdom are seen especially in the creation of a world with its own innate agency.Admittedly her article comes from part of a polemic by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their 'perspectives' about evolution, but I still believe what she says about Aquinas.
If so, then Aquinas has a serious problem in his theory. He wants to be "allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature". However, our agency requires us to have things which only God has: we need being, we need love, we need wisdom -- we need life in general. And God, in theism, is being itself, love itself, wisdom itself, and life itself. Aquinas does indeed recognize this about God: he acknowledges the 'aseity of God'. The word 'aseity' come from 'a se - ity', where 'a se' is latin for 'in itself'. But he does not acknowledge that we have to receive love, receive wisdom, receive life from God. This cannot be done arbitrarily 'at a distance', but must be done by the actions of God. And the actions of God require the presence of God. So it is certainly not the case that "nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion."
Aquinas seems to follow the traditional view of God creating the world, that is by fiat, taking literally the commands 'fiat lux: let there be light,' and so on. He, and other theologians since, have usually separated the question of how God sustains the existence of things from the question of their dynamical properties. These properties are taken to give rise to secondary causation, which is assumed to be independent of whatever primary causation there is from God.
The creation of substantial objects nevertheless involves God giving them their being (since he is being itself). There can be no power without substance nor without some kind of presence. It is impossible that God sustains merely the existences of things while at the same time remaining completely absent. In the theism of my book, the immanence of God, by which all things are sustained, is less an abstract metaphysical principle and much more the immediate and mediate re-generation of life by continual influx from God. The sustaining of being by re-generation does allow this, as long as the beginning of the chain is in the presence of God.
The fact that God sustains all beings by such 'influx' can be the meaning of Matthew 5:45: "He ... sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Alternative imagery in the same verse refers to light rather than liquid flow: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good."
For more discussion of these things, and the broader picture, see www.beginningtheisticscience.com.