To illustrate the TDLC ontology, let me offer a metaphor – Author/Story. Since our epistemology is grounded in our own type of being and the language available to us, metaphors can present a “picture” of the concepts that may make them more easily understood. Now some might say this is anthropomorphizing concepts of God, but as finite beings that is what we have to work with. This Author/Story metaphor alludes to a foundational concept in TDLC theology and that is a divine idealism where reality is essentially a construct in the mind of God.
So, think about how a story or narrative is created. The author imagines a world, environments, settings, and characters. That imagining is in the mind of the author. It’s all the author but also somewhat distinct from the full range of the author’s being. It’s a creation. The author has an idea about the plot and what will happen broadly but as the author writes, the story unfolds often in ways the author didn’t expect in the beginning. Now, a key point here is that all the characters are part of the author – an aspect of the author’s mind. In the narrative, the author “becomes” each character, taking on their attributes and limitations. In essence, the author adopts the role of that character. Like in role-playing games. The author sheds their own particular knowledge, proclivities, personality, etc. to become that role, acting out that role within the givens of that being. In other words, the author lives that life, with all its constraints, limitations, flaws, and problems. Now, from a theological perspective, this idea is nothing new. There is a concept in Greek thought called kenosis — self-emptying. It shows up in Christianity with the incarnation, in the avatars in Hinduism, as well as in Greek mythology. Essentially it is the divine, being instantiated in the world in some limited form.
Now in the TDLC ontology, an aspect monism, this doesn’t just apply to human characters. It applies to everything – the environment, elementary components, bacteria, plants, insects, animals, all the way to human animals. Each has its own constraints and levels of sentience. Some aspects of the Divine Life behave stereotypically like chemical elements, cells, plants, etc. with very limited complexity whereas in others there is great complexity and more options available. So God takes on each role (a divine aspect) and lives that life.
This metaphor might also offer some possibilities for free will. I’ve heard authors talk about being surprised by what their characters do. The author may have a general idea about how the story will unfold, but at times the characters just seem to do what they do and shape the story in an unexpected way. Then the author just goes with that new direction. I think this could also be a metaphor for free will. God, the Author, has a general purpose for the narrative but each aspect of the story (each instance of God in that aspect) also has some level of freedom to make choices that may in some respects be at odds with what God, the Author, would have wanted. This can happen because as creatures in the story we can have a limited share of the ultimate freedom of the Author. The freedom of each aspect such as a human being is constrained by many things — the environment, personal history, genetic makeup, the situation, limited knowledge, psychological proclivities, etc. But within all that there is still some level of freedom to choose within those constraints. There is a depth within everything as an aspect of God that is in some touch with the ultimate purpose of the Author. That depth can be probed and perceived even if fragmentarily. We may choose to embrace that teleology or not but that is what freedom is about.
This metaphor may also speak to other problems like the problem of evil and phenomenal consciousness. If we think about the ebbs and flows of evil and good in a narrative, what we see is that the author in conjunction with the characters both creates the evil and suffers its consequences. Both create the good and feels its effects. It’s all happening in the author’s mind and is both the author as author and the author as character. This is the essence of a complete monism. Then in regard to phenomenal consciousness, just as a limited freedom is a share of the ultimate freedom of God, so also a limited consciousness can be a share in God’s ultimate consciousness.
And so the grand narrative unfolds as God lives each life and struggles with the limitations and challenges of what it means to be a finite creature with frailties as well as strengths.