Book review: The Creaking on the Stairs

The latest issue of Affinity's Social Issues Bulletin is out now. It is free to download, as are all previous editions. One of the articles is a book review by Roger Hitchings. The book is a personal story of childhood abuse and the struggle to forgive and move on when the author became a Christian:

The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse
Mez McConnell, Christian Focus Publishing, 240pp, 2019, £8.99

This is a must-read book. It is not one to leave the reader with warm feelings inside; rather, it will horrify and shock in places. It should be read because it opens eyes to the extremes of the evil of child abuse but also presents the gospel in a most enlightening and unique way. Rosaria Butterfield says, ‘The most disturbing book that I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.’

The book covers a surprising range of themes; it addresses those who have been abused and, remarkably,  also those who abuse; and it speaks to Christians about their duty and opportunities in such situations. Above all, it presents the power and wonder of the gospel.

Mez McConnell is the senior pastor of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh. He is the director of 20schemes, a church planting and revitalisation initiative in Scotland. He is also co-director of the Acts29 initiative Church in Hard Places and a worldwide conference speaker (description on fiec.org.uk). His life story is not recounted in this book but in a previous volume entitled, ‘Is There Anyone Out There?’ Nonetheless his life story is a vital strand running through this book.

Mez’s early life was marked by the most terrible abuse and hardship at the hands of his step-mother (and others whom he scarcely refers to in either book). In his teenage years he turned to drugs, crime and violence, and served two prison sentences. Remarkably, in the mercy of God, he came into contact with an evangelical church and was wonderfully converted. Since his conversion the Lord has used him in missionary service in Brazil and over recent years in the church planting work in Scotland.

This present book was written after he wrote a blog post describing his conflicted emotions on hearing of the death of his chief torturer, his step-mother. That blog produced a huge world-wide response from other abuse sufferers who identified with Mez’s own anguished and confused reaction to her death. In the blog, which is reproduced at the beginning of the book, he fluctuates between thankfulness and joy that she was dead, and guilt and distress that he, a pastor, should feel that way and not be sad that she may have gone to a lost eternity. This is typical of the courage and honesty of the writer as he recounts his own terrible experiences. So, in light of the responses to his blog, he wrote this book to describe how the gospel alone brings peace and hope in such circumstances. Throughout, he illustrates elements of the gospel with accounts of his sufferings, which can be harrowing, and other experiences in his life which are deeply moving. Throughout there is a biblical analysis that is stirring and immensely helpful.

It is an unusual book; it is not really a biography, but an explanation of the gospel. However, the events of his life run throughout, and the glorious work of Christ is expounded often as he recounts the horrific sufferings and sad experiences of his early life. Its value is that it speaks to a wide range of people in an open and clear manner. It powerfully points readers to the Saviour and the astounding work he has accomplished in his life, death and resurrection.

 It is should be widely read as a faithful combination of honest reflection and first-class biblical exposition. It radiates hope for those whose hearts and minds have been damaged by the misuse they have experienced. and faces up to the real issues with which victims have to deal. The author admits that there are some questions which cannot be answered, such as, ‘Why should I have been subjected to such horrors?’ How to handle that inevitable problem is faced squarely and dealt with in a most helpful way. Here a fellow sufferer opens his heart and explains his varied emotions while presenting a developing explanation of the gospel. It is only in the gospel and in working through its ramifications for life that real peace can be found.

This is also a book for Christians wanting to minister to the abused. Often victims cannot find peace because those who try to help do not appreciate the terrors they have had to endure. This book will open believers’ eyes to what really happens in the lives of the abused. Of course, not all will have experienced the level of cruelty, degradation, neglect, and hardship that Mez describes. But in reading of his experience, the reader is taught the depth of anguish that all victims of abuse enter into. It will hopefully engender a sympathy and compassion that is vital if churches are to help those who have suffered. And for those churches that may have seen such wickedness in their midst but downplayed its seriousness, this book will demonstrate what is being covered up.

A question we must all ask ourselves is how would we respond to someone like Mez coming to our church. Would we, like members of the church he went to, open our home to show love and practical Christianity on a daily basis? It will be a challenge to nurture a young believer coming out of such a disordered life but such people are looking for the compassion and love only Christians can provide.

Finally, the book also has things to say to those who abuse. The message is that there can be forgiveness. Mez tells of his own battle to be able to forgive abusers whom he meets in his ministry for the evil they have committed. Here again his courage and honesty shine through. One chapter is an interview with a repentant abuser which analyses some of the issues he has had to face, and the discouragements he has encountered with unhelpful churches. Another is an interview with the pastor of a repentant abuser in which some of the challenges, safeguards and demands are discussed.

It is common for abusers, and especially sex offenders, to be rejected by a local congregation, even to the point of telling them to go elsewhere. I personally know of a truly godly young man, a former sex offender, who is without church fellowship and support because more than one church has banned him. That there is fear and distaste within a church leadership over what the abuser has done is to be expected, but to refuse to engage in a conversation with someone who is genuinely repentant, and gives strong evidence of real faith, is almost unbelievable. Yet as I write this review, I sadly reflect on men who are trying to re-establish their lives after terrible sin and cannot find other believers to help them.

I recommend this book as an eye-opener and also as a brilliant presentation of the gospel.

Roger Hitchings

(This article was originally published in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin for November 2020. The whole edition can be found at www.affinity.org.uk)


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