This question is much debated and no final consensus has emerged. So, let me offers some suggestions about the possible meaning of Col 1:17.
In Isa 42:5 we have:
This is what God the LORD says—He who created the heavens and
stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who
gives breath to the people on it and life to those who walk in it:
We have similar ideas taught in Num 16:22 (see also Num 27:16)
But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, the God who
gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire
assembly when only one man sins?”
I note in passing that it remains a deep mystery what living cells are "alive" and what distinguishes a living cell from a dead one even though both consist of exactly the same chemistry.
In his famous book, "A Brief History of Time", Stephen Hawking asked the important question:
"Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set
of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the
equations and makes a universe for them to describe?"
Following the same idea that the ultimate reality are the mathematical equations that describe the reality, he also asks:
"Why does the universe go to all the trouble of existing?".
An even more important question is this, What made the equations and their associated constants just right for the universe to exist at all? And, What ensures that these things do not change?
In both these possibilities, God sustains the entire universe by his "powerful word" (Heb 1:3). And, He does this without contravening the free choice of people, whether sinful or not. God did not create sin and dysfunction and one day, God will eliminate sin from the universe and thus eliminate dysfunction as well (see Rom 8:22, 23).