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Scand J Caring Sci. 2013 Jun;27(2):449-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6712.2012.01038.x. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

The substance of love when encountering suffering: an interpretative research synthesis with an abductive approach.

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Faculty of Caring Science, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa, Finland and Faculty of Health Stord/ Haugesund University College, Stord, Norway.



This study presents the results of an interpretative research synthesis undertaken to explore the essence of love when encountering suffering. The idea of caring as an expression of love and compassion belongs with ideas that have shaped caring for hundreds of years. Love and suffering are the core concepts in caring science and thus demand a basic research approach.


The synthesis was undertaken by the interpretation of 15 articles focusing on love in different aspects, but within a caring science perspective. The research process was guided by a hermeneutical perspective with an abductive approach.


The substance of love, when encountering suffering, reveals itself in three themes: love as a holy power, love as fundamental for being and love as an ethical act, which are to be found, respectively, within three dimensions: love as holiness, love as a communion and love as an art. Love is a holy power and encompasses everything; it is the well of strength that heals. No human can exist without love: this points to the ethical responsibility one has as a neighbour. In the ethical act, love is evident in concrete caring actions.


The core of the substance of love within the three dimensions can be understood as agape. Agape connects and mirrors the dimensions, while at the same time it is clear that agape stems from and moves towards holiness, enabling love to be the ethical foundation when encountering suffering. Through the dimensions of love as communion and love as an art agape intertwine with eros forming caritas enabling the human being to move towards the dimension of holiness, which signifies becoming through suffering.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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