"You belong to your father, the devil ..." (John 8:44-47)

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:44-47)

What does he mean by their 'father, the devil'?

Jesus is continuing to severely criticize the institutional temple Pharisees and temple officials. He is making a distinction between his teachings and theirs.

When Jesus says that they belong to their "father, the devil" is he referring to the devil as a person who is their physical father? Certainly, the Pharisees and institutional temple priests were not all brothers, so Jesus cannot be referring to their physical father. 

He is using the word "father" - translated* from the Greek word πατήρ (patēr) - metaphorically to indicate their allegiance. The better translation, as we indicated with the prior statement, is "lord." He is saying that they "belong to your lord, the devil."

In the same way, Jesus is not referring to "the devil" as a physical person. He is using "the devil" metaphorically. So what does Jesus mean by "the devil" then?

Some teachers portray the devil as being some horned character who lives underground in caves filled with fire, wearing a red suit and carrying a pitchfork. They have characterized this person as someone who creeps around, sometimes sitting on our shoulders, trying to convince us to do bad things. And we are innocent until the devil coerces us to do evil: "The devil made me do it."

This is a hypocritical and fanatical position. Characterizing this allegorical character called the 'devil' in such a way simply allows us to not feel responsible for our own decisions and actions.

Jesus discusses 'the devil's' attributes further. He stated the devil:
"was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
So is Jesus saying that a single person is literally the father of lying? That all lies have been given birth by a single person, the devil? Certainly, again, Jesus' characterization is metaphorical. 

It is not as if there is some person who procreated and produced lying. Are we saying that all the lying we see around us does not come from liars - that they are innocently being forced to lie by someone else?

This also goes for murder. Is Jesus saying that every murder is committed by this single person, the devil, and not by the criminals who are spending time in jail for their crime?

Is the 'devil' responsible?

To take Jesus' metaphorical discussion to this unreasonable degree literally not only avoids our responsibility: it also avoids reality. 

The reality is, those who commit murder and lie are murderers and liars. These acts are born from the people who commit those acts. 

We cannot blame someone else. Can a murderer go into court and say "the devil made me do it" and be declared innocent by the court? Certainly not. The court knows the person committed the crime and the crime came from the person.

What, then, is Jesus referring to as "the devil"? The Greek word being translated to " the devil" in this verse is διάβολος (diabolos). Diabolos is the root of our English word diabolical.

Thayer's Greek lexicon translates διάβολος (diabolos) to mean "prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely." And what makes a person become prone to slander and accusing others falsely? It is quite simply, self-centeredness.

In other words, Jesus is referring to sin as self-centeredness - being diabolical.

Thus sin - being diabolical - self-centeredness - is metaphorically related to "the devil" because self-centeredness is the root of desire, the root of greed, the root of envy, the root of murder and the root of lying.

But Jesus' use of a metaphorical devil also relates to the consequence of self-centeredness - becoming bound within the illusory nature of the physical world that hides our true nature as a result of our self-centeredness. This illusory nature of the physical world gives us the facility to express our self-centeredness.

Jesus is telling them about another consciousness: The consciousness of loving and serving the Supreme Being. That is why he is trying to teach them "the truth."

Does self-centeredness contradict love?

Self-centeredness means to covet one's own self above anything else. By being self-centered, we put ourselves first. While some might think selfishness is quite innocent, and many self-help gurus like to teach us to "love ourselves," loving ourselves is our disease. Loving ourselves above all else results in us essentially escaping from our constitutional relationship with the Supreme Being.

Our constitutional relationship with the Supreme Being is that we are His loving servants. But because love requires freedom, we each have the innate ability to escape from our constitutional position and become self-centered instead of God-centered.

The Supreme Being accommodates our escape from our primal relationship with Him by creating the physical world and these temporary physical bodies to allow us to escape our relationship with Him. 

Our identification with these temporary physical bodies allows us to forget the Supreme Being completely. This also allows us to deny His very existence. Why?

Because love requires the freedom to choose to love or not to love. God created us to love and serve Him, but this must be voluntary. And to accommodate that freedom of loving Him or not, there must be a facility to accommodate the choice not to love Him. 

This choice is accomplished by God's creation of the illusory nature of the physical world - which deludes us into believing we are these temporary physical bodies.

To enter God's and Jesus' world requires us to choose to renew our loving relationship with the Supreme Being. It requires coming to a point where we realize we are not the center of the universe. 

It means we recognize that the Supreme Being is the center of the universe - and we are not. It means taking refuge in Him because He is our Best Friend and Soul Mate.

What does 'he who belongs to God' mean?

This is what Jesus is referring to when he says "He who belongs to God." To belong to God means to take shelter of the Supreme Being. It means to dedicate ourselves to the Supreme Being. It means to put the Supreme Being first in our lives. This is the polar opposite of self-centeredness.

As for the mythical 'devil,' we should also clarify that the Supreme Being has no challenger. Though a person may be envious of the Supreme Being and self-centered, God's control of the physical universe is never threatened by anyone.

Maintaining a literal definition of the metaphorical 'devil' allows us to avoid our self-centeredness. It allows us to not see any need to change. Most of us simply don't want to face that we are the problem. We want to blame someone else for our self-centeredness.

Doing this, however, also prevents us from growing. To grow spiritually requires that we first face the fact that I am my problem. It is my selfishness that is causing my emptiness. It is my selfishness that is causing me to hurt others, lie to others. It is my self-centeredness that is keeping me from belonging to God.

Jesus also states that "He who belongs to God hears what God says." He also says that "The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." The "belonging" referred to here is not a physical relationship of ownership, such as a dog belonging to a human. It also does not mean to join a particular team or sect.

To "belong" means to have a certain consciousness. And what is that consciousness? It is love for God. It is wanting to please God. A person in a consciousness of wanting to please God will be listening for God with their lives. And they will hear God from within.

We might compare this idea of belonging to a basketball player who is standing on the sidelines during a game. If he is dreaming about his girlfriend in the stands and thinking about their date tonight, he will likely not hear the coach say "go in and replace the forward!" His mind is roaming elsewhere. His head isn't "in the game." Thus he really doesn't belong on the court with his team at that point. He really belongs in the stands with his girlfriend.

In the same way, if we belong to the Supreme Being, God will be the center of our lives. We will be wanting to do what pleases the Supreme Being. This is what Jesus was doing. He wanted to please the Supreme Being:
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." (John 5:30)
Jesus pleased the Supreme Being with his teachings - which came from the Supreme Being. This is why he also stated:
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)
And what was Jesus' most important teaching?
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement according to the Lost Gospels of Jesus:

"You follow your lord, the opposer of God, and you want to do what pleases your lord. He was a slayer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks falsely, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the master of lies. Yet because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you can convict me of sin? If I speak Truth, why do you not believe me? One who is dedicated to God hears the words of God. For this reason you do not hear them, because you are not dedicated to God.” (John 8:44-47)