When the Lord instructed Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to confront their critics in Kirtland, Ohio, He used a phrase from Isaiah to explain the approach they should take. “Let [your enemies] bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord,” He said (Doctrine and Covenants 71:8). In other words, instead of bearing the full burden of proof yourselves, ask your opponents to justify their position. Here’s the original passage from Isaiah, in which the Lord challenges the idols to justify their existence:
Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.Isaiah 41:21-24
The Hebrew word translated “strong reasons” in this passage is atsumah (עַצֻּמָה) which means defense: something powerful that protects you. It’s a variant of the word atsum (עָצוּם), which means mighty. The King James translators used the phrase “strong reasons” to convey this sense of power or might. Other translations render the word as “arguments,” “proofs,” or “evidence.” (See Isaiah 41:21 on biblehub.com.) The point is, if you are going to reject God, you ought to at least explain why your alternative is better. If you have nothing better to offer, then why should I give up what I already have?
Alma used this tactic when he spoke with Korihor, the anti-Christ. Korihor’s argument was that the church was harmful. It limited people’s freedom. It made decisions based on things that can’t be seen. It kept its members subservient to its priests.
Alma responded to these arguments by asking for more information about Korihor himself. Did he believe in God? Korihor said no. Then, Alma asked:
What evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true.Alma 30:39, 41
Alma went on to provide some of his evidence for the existence of God, including the scriptures and the grandeur of nature. Korihor’s position suddenly became clear. He had nothing to offer except criticism.
Today, I will remember that it’s easy to criticize but harder to contribute constructively. I will listen to critics who have something reasonable to offer, but I will expect them to bring “strong reasons,” so that I can fully and fairly evaluate what they are proposing.