The meaning of the lyrics to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" are debated, but the general consensus is that the song uses scenes from the Bible as metaphors to suggest that life has meaning and value, not just within a religious context, but also within a contemporary, non-religious context. The song references Old Testament figures David and Samson, who struggled with doubt but still fulfilled a purpose, and suggests that modern humanity can similarly find meaning despite doubt and lack of faith.
Cohen wrote approximately 80 verses to "Hallelujah" when he first began composing it, although he cut these down to only four for the version that he released on the album, "Various Positions." However, multiple musicians have since covered the song, including John Cale, Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan. Some of these covers include lyrics that deviate from the original four verses Cohen chose. As a result, some versions end more pessimistically than others.
However, the song as Cohen initially arranged it is optimistic, suggesting that purpose can be found even amidst overwhelming problems. In interviews, Cohen has mentioned his belief that the flawed nature of humanity is also what allows people to find meaning and create great works of art, and these contradictory conditions are what he intended to capture in "Hallelujah."