Please note: All these themes were compiled by myself. They represent my opinion about the content of the song. Please do not copy, unless I provide prior permission.
We all know the story - Michael had a tortured, isolated childhood, and like anything we miss out on, we yearn for it more. His focus on the innocence of childhood can only be truly sympathised with by those who have suffered in a similar way. His experience of adulthood - an abusive father, the relentless media, the scathing critics, the accusing trials - put him off adulthood completely. And by living in such an isolated, sheltered fame - and being harshly groomed as a "childhood star" since he was 5 - he missed the opportunity to learn how to deal with criticism and adulthood constructively, particularly through unbiased, genuine friends. Thus, by living in his sweet "Peter Pan/Neverland" mindset, he finally felt involved in a joyful childhood he never had.
Consequently, in the song, Michael focuses on the benefits of uniting as a human race for future generations - "our children". It begins with a child talking about how present generations talk about making the world a better place "for our children, and our children's children"; the song then ends with a child again, this time singing for humanity to save the world "for our children". Thus, the theme of children is strong throughout the song - they begin, and complete the encouragment for, hope in a better world. Thus for Michael, Children are the past, present, and future of a "better world".
There is an amazing verse in the song, shown below, that is a direct insight into Michael's ideal world. He states how love only cares for" joyful giving" - something directly related to the unselfishness and open-heartedness of children. Similarly, the lyric "if we try, we shall see, in this bliss we cannot feel fear or dread" - the "bliss" is reminiscent of the blissfully ignorant world children are frequently labelled with.
"If you want to know why there's a love that cannot lie - love is strong, it only cares for joyful giving. / If we try, we shall see, in this bliss we cannot feel fear or dread - [we'll] stop existing and start living."
The official music video also begins with a powerful monologue by Jackson which is an amazing insight into Michael's view of children. The video itself also features children living in countries suffering from unrest - children who are always joyous despite their misfortune, in start contrast to the rigidity of the adults surrounding them. Eventually, the freedom and innocence of the children inspires the adults to stop conflict with each other.
"Children show me in their playful smiles the divine in everyone. These children are a reminder of the preciousness of all life - especially young lives untouched by hatred, prejudice, and greed. Now when the world is so confused, and its problems so complicated, we need our children more than ever. The mission of "Heal the World" - my mission - is healing. Pure and simple. To heal the world, we must start by healing our children. Being with them connects us to the deep wisdom of life. This simple goodness shines straight from their hearts [and only asks to be lived]." Preface to official HTW music video
The Heal the World Foundation - a charitable organization which blossomed from the ideas illustrated in the song - was designed to improve the lives of children, also be teaching children how to help others.
As a whole, the lyrics of the song are incredibly delicate and free-flowing, but slightly convoluted at times, in the precise style of a child singing his own song. In my own childhood, I used to love this song because I could sing so well to it, understand the words and feel calm with it: the looseness and free happiness of the song is something very welcome to children.
The song cleverly laments about present conflicts at the same time as hoping for the prospects of a future peace, where life is greener, simpler, calmer, and more loving, with "no need to cry". This is contrast to the "hurt, sorrow, fear [and] dread" in today's world of hatred, where people merely "exist" instead of living their lives purely and fully, and are "dying" by injustice and conflict. There are even questions about whether today's generations even "care enough for the living" to make the world a better place at all.
This is a song of nurturing hope for a peaceful world - there is a continuous stress that the sorrows and wars of today, can be healed by the fruits of our labour for tomorrow:
"We could fly so high; let our spirits never die / In my heart, I feel you are all my brothers. / Create a world with no fear [and] together we'll cry happy tears - see the nations turn their swords into plowshares..."
Who knows which religious sect Michael believed in? He was born into a family of Jehovah's Witnesses; his brother Jermaine converted to Islam in 1989;... I just believe Michael tried to find solace in any faith regardless of its social label - that provided hope for peace and unity, in a world he viewed as complicated, unforgiving and impure.
Nevertheless, through much of his music Michael sings of a monotheistic faith - faith in one, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God. "Heal the World" is a brilliant example of the power of love and forgiveness that Michael sees in this omnipotent God. For Michael, the love represented in God can flow into pacifist ideas to promote world harmony.
"If you want to know why there's a love that cannot lie - love is strong, it only cares for joyful giving [...] In my heart, I feel you are all my brothers."
Here, love is the joyful, pacifist weapon advocating peace and a united brotherhood. Later, Michael directly compares the weapon of love to detrimental weapons of war:
"Create a world with no fear - together we'll cry happy tears; see the nations turn their swords into plowshares."
The above lyric is in fact a popular allusion to the Bible, where the concept of "beating swords into plowshares" is used numerous times to represent a future peace and pacifism. For example, Isaiah (2: 2-4) [King James Version] states: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." This is not to say the Bible always promotes peace and pacifism (see Joel 3:10) - this is simply to state that Michael had borrowed this biblical theme into his song, to illustrate an appreciation for divine messages regardless of their source, and the power of love to overcome conflict.
Perhaps the most glorious part of the song is the bridge - where Michael looks back to the "dream we were conceived in" being "joyful" and full of "grace", reminiscient of the "goodness" of creation (see Genesis). He shows faith in the world being able to "shine again" - perhaps an allusion to the pure, almost childlike way the Bible states "let there be light" - or maybe not. Consequently, in this enlightened, redeemed state, the people of the Earth can "fly so high / let our spirits never die" and "be God's glow" - rather like angels.
Michael then asks why humanity wounds the Earth and "crucify its soul" - something that can clearly be compared to Jesus' crucifications. Thus, in a Christian translation, the Earth is like Jesus - representing love and having a divine power - and humanity is torturing and abusing Earth unreasonably, eventually to its death:
"And the dream we were conceived in will reveal a joyful face - and the world we once believed in will shine again in grace. Then why do we keep strangling life? Wound this Earth, crucify its soul? Though it's plain to see, this world is heavenly - [we could] be God's glow"
Although there are many possible religious allusions, the allusions referenced above are very strong in Western culture, hence why Michael may have easily accessed these allusions when writing this song.
Many Michael Jackson songs - most notably "Earth Song" - show a definite concern in the detrimental effects humans are having on the health of our planet. "Heal the World" also addresses this concern. Firstly, in the speech before the official music video, he states:
"We have to heal our wounded planet. I wrote this song for everyone in our world, in an effort to bring global harming [to an end]." - Preface to official HTW music video
Secondly, in the song itself, this concern is most noticeable in the bridge, where he sings:
"And the world we once believed in will shine again in Grace / Then why do we keep strangling life - wound this Earth, crucify its soul? Though it's plain to see, this world is heavenly - [we could] be God's glow."
Later, he also dreams of a united world of brothers, and invisions how "the nations [will] turn their swords into plowshares". Although the lyric is mostly in a biblical way, it can also be translated literally - take away the swords of war and global harming, and turn them into plowshares which help regenerate the earth and make the soil fertile enough for life to blossom forever. This translation is also seen in an earlier lyrics, where he states:
"Then it feels that always love's enough for us growing; so make a better world, make a better world..."
In this lyric, "love" can be the earth and soil which has been provided to us, fertile enough for humanity and life to "grow" healthily - thus Michael's plea for us all to make a "better world" to encourage this healthy growing.