I started reading I Samuel this morning – a change from the Gospels and Psalms. I’ve always been touched by Hannah’s deep passion and her willingness to be transparent before God. But today something else leaped out at me as I read Eli’s response to Hannah’s prayer:
As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” I Samuel 1:12-14
What? Here you have a church leader accusing someone outright of drunkenness! To his credit, he addresses her directly. Beyond that, I couldn’t help feeling appalled at Eli’s attitude. Didn’t he know anything of Hannah’s story? After all, she’d been coming with her husband to the temple for several years. She was a regular, and a faithful one at that. Did he ever look at her face and see the pain and sorrow there? Was it not obvious to him that she was barren – a great source of shame and sadness for women in those days? And she was in the temple . . . in the place of prayer. But instead of giving her the benefit of the doubt, he assumes the worst – she must be drunk.
I’m sure I can be blind to reality at times, but I would always rather err on the side of grace. I have found that, in the absence of facts, our imaginations are quick to rush in and fill in the gaps with details which may not be true. What stories are we telling ourselves?
May God give us the wisdom and humility to extend grace to one another, the same grace he has so generously bestowed on us first. By refusing to pass quick judgment, by wanting to believe the best of others, we make space in our hearts for love to be our first response.