I’ve hear this song a million times (mostly in department stores and elevators), but when I heard it again yesterday, I was struck by its Christian understanding of forgiveness. It may be from the 80’s and it may sound a little too much like Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, etc. but it’s an underrated rock gem.

Henley seems to write about an old soured relationship that has reentered his life. He relives the pain of this lost love and he tries to come to terms with its meaning. In the fog of his mixed motives and competing emotions he arrives at forgiveness as “The Heart of the Matter.” Yet this is not a sentimental forgiveness, or a manipulative forgiveness that hopes to affect a predetermined desired outcome. He forgives even if his love is not reciprocated. At the moment I can’t think of a better analogy for the divine (vertical) forgiveness at the cross. Henley’s forgiveness is “one-way” with no expectation of return.

Even more, in this battle for love Henley sees himself and the world as co-conspirators against love. His drive for success, his pride, and his competition have left him alone. He was the one who forsook off the contentment of love. The world, too, actively works against love’s birth. It is the “voice outside of love’s open door” with false promises. The world is graceless a threat to love. In other words, the world is not a neutral entity that can be dismissed with a yawn, but actively stands over and against human and divine love. As the song directly attests to, the battle for love is a losing battle. Henley knows that time is literally running out. Despite these pressing limitations, Henley still holds to forgiveness as that which is the transcendent paradigm of life:

I got the call today, I didn’t wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old true friend of ours was talkin’ on the phone
She said you found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck,
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you
What are these voices outside love’s open door
Make us throw off our contentment
And beg for something more?

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

These times are so uncertain,
There’s a yearning undefined… People filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The trust and self-assurance that can lead to happiness
They’re the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us, doesn’t keep me warm

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you, Baby
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But everything changes and my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down and hurt your pride
Better put it all behind you; life goes on
You keep carrin’ that anger, it’ll eat you inside

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh will get weak and the ashes will scatter
So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore