God is intent on transforming His children into the likeness of Christ.
We who are His children long for that transformation. But transformation into Christ’s likeness is never an instantaneous zap. Rather, it is a long, slow, and often painful process in which our tendencies toward sin and autonomy are stripped away, and new habits of godliness are forged. Maturity in Christ comes not from the “Poof!” of a magic wand, but from the rod and staff of the Shepherd as He leads us in paths of righteousness.
I recently read through a little book by C.S. Lewis called A Grief Observed, which is a compilation of his journal entries in response to the death of his beloved wife. In these raw yet thoughtful expressions of his deep grief, Lewis wrestled with God as he tried to make sense of the dark valley he was walking through. While he cried out to God to be gracious and tender, he also began to recognize that perhaps the pain actually pointed to the kindness of God. This is what he wrote:
The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed–might grow tired of his vile sport–might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. [C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 55-56]
God is the kindest and most conscientious of surgeons, and because He is intent on our transformation, we can expect that pain will come in the process. But the dark valleys we walk through are not the punishments of a sadistic deity; rather they are the skillful surgeries of our Kind Physician as He inexorably cuts the sin from our hearts and removes all that is dead and diseased in our character.