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 are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.1 Samuel 1:12–18 (audio)
If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.Matthew 6:5–6 (audio)
I recently finished a cohort with Ampersands Restorative Justice, where I learned how to use restorative justice to facilitate conversations between those who have authored and those who’ve experienced sexual harm. It’s one thing to believe in restoration and quite another to commit to it genuinely. And it’s more difficult than I’d like to admit to treat as worthy people who’ve done something I know is wrong.
The organization’s founders have studied sex crimes and led these kinds of discussions for decades. Their work gave me some startling insights. Religious leaders rarely make amends or rather accept being held accountable. In my experience, this reluctance is one of the primary reasons people in my life give for leaving the church.
In today’s reading, the exchange between Eli and Hannah is an essential guide for Christians who want to be held accountable to a higher standard. Hannah pours her heart out to God. Yet, Eli decides she’s drunk and scolds her—something well within his authority. Much of the Old Testament expressly lays out how God’s people are to practice their faith. In particular, faith leaders have a responsibility to guide Christ-followers.
And yet, Eli’s wrong.
After Hannah explains her behavior, Eli does not try to explain his actions. He does not criticize Hannah’s tone. He immediately turns from offering her judgment to wishing she be blessed. And Hannah’s response tells us that Eli’s words were sincere—a true picture of repentance.
All Christ-followers, including faith leaders, will get it wrong sometimes. However, if we are to serve faithfully and with integrity, we must be willing to face those times head-on and humbly acknowledge our wrongdoing. When we commit to accountability, we lift up those we’ve hurt.
- When you find out you are wrong, how do you usually respond?
- Who in your life needs do you need to make amends to? How could you do it? Take some time to pray, asking God to show you who in your life might be waiting for you to make amends, and then take action.