Two points: first, regarding the statement that God holds all creatures in existence. This is true, but more than this, he is the cause of every existing thing. This does not include merely substantial creatures, but also every other kind of being. In other words, it is not enough to say that God causes me to exist and then I go out and do stuff that God does not cause. This is because my actions are also beings, and therefore must reduce to him as first cause just as much as I myself, as a being, must reduce to him as first cause. When I snap my fingers, God is the cause of that act just as he is the cause of me. The same applies to every act, even acts of sin. What we can say about those is that insofar as they are evil, they are not beings, since evil is a privation of being; but no act is purely an evil. It always has some actuality, some being, to it, and must therefore be produced by God. So God is the cause of acts even of sin, although not insofar as they are sins but insofar as they are beings.And Anothercoward adds:
The second point is really more of a question, and is the more important. It appears that your reason for rejecting the above idea is that it would seemingly remove free will. I don't see why this is the case. That is, it would only followed if freedom included in its very definition the fact of not being caused by another. It's not clear to me that this is necessary in order for an act to be free. To give an example, are the acts of fictional characters free? It seems that they are, despite the fact that they are products of the author. God stands to us as an author to his characters--even though he "writes" the story of the universe, we the characters are nevertheless free and responsible for our actions.
sapientiae - so far, I'm sold. But what of choice? It's one thing to say that God upholds us and upholds our actions ... but does God uphold us in such a way that we freely choose absent the compulsion of His determinism between options/possibilities/good+evil?All this may seem a bit abstruse, but although your average joe may not think of these questions in these terms, I think there is a great deal of real relevance to this kind of discussion. One of the things I find whenever I talk religion with my Evangelical co-workers is that the relationship between free will, God's knowledge and power, sin and salvation is still very much an debated question among Christianity as a whole, although from a Catholic point of view it may at times seem like an issue which is settled except for a few scholastic fine points.
In other words, we know that God is not compelled to do anything. Yet when dealing with this topic, we get very dangerously close to ignoring that fact. And as an extension, I think we forget that whatever we are, we are in His image. And I do believe that extends to the nature of the compulsion of will - that God has created us to be (largely) free in our decisions - which means that before there are decisions/actions, there are very real possibilities to choose between. Now God being unimaginably perfect and perceptive, it's hard to imagine how that works - but I think it's more difficult to imagine that it's beyond Him, particularly given all that the faith teaches.
Now, I confess, when we start to talk about whether actions are beings, we're starting to get out of my accustomed depth. I'm pretty sure I read a bit about this view back in college, but as it's not necessarily the way I think about things myself, I'm rusty.
If we think of our actions as beings (or whatever they are -- they're clearly something) then I think we must think of our own wills as their primary cause. (I did some thinking and reading and eventually decided I'm not up enough on Aristotelian/Thomistic causality to try to couch this in those terms, so be aware I'm specifically not doing that. If a real Aristotelian or Thomist has a moment, perhaps he can do us that service.) Since God created each of us, and hold us in existence, and created us with the ability to make decisions freely, he must be the ultimate cause of our actions, to the extent that God keeps in existence through his will creatures who do whatever it is that we do. (I'm intrigued by the notion of fictional character's having free will, though in a certain sense I'm not sure what it means. I would say, though, that I think a good author "allows" characters to behave as people naturally would in the situations they are placed in, while poor authors "force" characters to go through the motions like puppets.)
However, the sense in which we say God is the cause of our actions is not, I would tend to think, the sense in which we normally use "cause" in everyday conversation, simply because God does not will us to sin -- definitionally, since sin is acting contrary to God's will. This is where I seem to run into problems talking to some Evangelicals -- some of them see it as impossible to act contrary to God's will, saying that since God is all powerful, clearly nothing could happen that is contrary to his will.
This is where I clearly part company with those who see the Problem of Sin as, well... a problem. It seems to me not out of keeping with God's omnipotence to see him as creating beings (in his image) that have the free will to either act in accordance to his will, or act otherwise. (In that sense, I don't see how you could have free will and yet not be capable of sinning, though obviously you could have free will and always use your will correctly and not sin.)