I seldom hear anything good about Eli; his story is in the book of I Samuel, chapters 1-4.
I’ve heard that he had little self-control because he was overweight (“heavy”); that he lacked discernment because he didn’t realize that Hannah was praying (he thought she was drunk); and that he was a failure as a parent because his sons were wicked.
Did you know that all of the above are made up by man?
God Himself never condemned Eli for any of these things; in fact, God singularly honored Eli in that He chose him to raise Samuel.
In what may be a relief to parents everywhere, God did not blame Eli for the wickedness of his sons. Eli’s sons did not know the Lord, we are told, and they behaved wickedly, and this sin is at their feet – Eli was not held accountable for their sins. What he was held accountable for that, knowing that his sons were wicked, he took no action, other than a rebuke to which they took no notice. He should have seen to it that they were removed from office, and that is his sin. Despite their faults, he loved them, but because of this love, Eli is told by God that he honored his sons above God Himself. At another time, God tells him that he did not restrain his sons, though they made themselves “vile”.
To briefly touch on the other charges above, Eli did have discernment – he recognized when God was calling to Samuel and counseled Samuel accordingly. In addition, Eli as priest (some think he was the high priest) must have had to exercise self-control.
In reality, people are a mixture of bad and good, but we have a tendency to put people (especially Bible characters) into “bad” or “good” categories. For the “bad” people, we exaggerate their badness and dismiss their good; we do the same in reverse for the “good” people. This series is examining some Bible characters people normally consider to be “bad”.