Lewis’ heaven and hell are not so much physical places as states of being; the distinction between them not one of longitude or latitude, but magnitude. Life on earth and yes, even in hell, hold the potential to become heavenly. In his story, Lewis Christianizes the mystical aphorism from Hermes Trismegistus: as above, so below.

Afterlife classics such as The Great Divorce, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Richard Matheson’s 1978 What Dreams May Come are not merely entertaining speculations about the world to come. Taken seriously, accounts of heaven and hell can become metaphysical summae, containing the fundamentals of an entire system of belief.

The same is true even for offhand comments about the afterlife. “All dogs go to heaven” is not just a sentiment for sad children: it is a far-reaching claim about the beyond. It demands a salvation, revelation, bodily resurrection, and redemptive cosmology made canine. The U2 song “Where the Streets Have no Name” is not a meaningless melody, it’s an assertion that heaven will be a culturally hollow suburb of eternal modern life, dreamt by a divinely omnipotent Karl Popper.

Ask young children what they believe heaven will be like. Assuming they’ve been brought up to believe in heaven, they may answer “floating on clouds with harps” or “all my favorite food,” while others will provide more theologically conversant answers, like “being in God’s presence” or “eternal happiness.”

For each preconception, theological truths are being implied, whether the children know it or not. Even lackluster stereotypes imply crucial doctrinal questions: What sorts of clouds or harps could exist beyond the physical world? Would eating all your favorite food make your glorified body…fat?

What we think of heaven tells us what we think about everything. Even when we “imagine there’s no heaven,” as John Lennon prescribed, we’re left with the disheartening remainder of his verse: “above us, only sky.” In other words, emptiness.

There’s a saying: it’s possible to be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good. On the surface, it’s undeniable that a theologian makes a poor businessman, and the self-immolators have still failed to Free Tibet. But we don’t call earthly goods “good” without context. A good meal is good because of the good life it brings, and that good life sometimes requires abstention, too. The goodness of life can only be assessed and achieved by stepping outside earthly thinking.

That’s because life and afterlife are more loosely located and closely linked. Each earthly-minded action carries with it some heavenly-minded import. Perhaps heaven, as Lewis suggested, is not merely a different physical place, but qualitatively greater one. Using earthly goods as pathways to the wide open spaces of heaven is better than allowing them to shrivel and shrink into the tiny fissure of hell.

Andrew Cuff is Communications Director at Beck & Stone where he leads institutional clients in communications consulting and brand tactics. Created is his editorial project. He and his wife (also a writer) have made their home in Latrobe, PA with their four children.